See Stress as an Opportunity for Growth

Photo by Christian Kortum (CC2.0 License)

As part of my transition to Philadelphia, my husband and I just bought a house. I love the house because it is in the trees and every time that I drive into the neighborhood, it feels peaceful and like I am coming home.

Last week, I moved from my rental in the city out to the house in the suburbs. It is something that I have been looking forward to for months.

The transition has been more stressful than I anticipated.

After spending a year and a half sleeping through the constant noise of the city, I couldn’t get to sleep the first night. It was so quiet. The unfamiliar sounds in the new house sounded so loud against the absolute stillness. I finally feel asleep around 3am and woke up exhausted. In my anxiety to catch the train, I smashed my hand in my back door as I was rushing out of the house and was bleeding as I figured out how to pay for parking at the train station. When I got to campus, I realized that I left my cell phone at the house.

After work, I stopped at the hardware store on the way home. I successfully navigated to the store without my phone directing my every turn. Getting home though was not as easy and I ended up driving in circles as I tried to figure out the winding roads and rely on landmarks. When I finally got home, I spent several minutes searching for my house keys because I was tired and flustered.

That was the short description of the first day in my new home. I’m still adapting as every small task requires focus to complete. I have to establish a whole new set of patterns and habits. In addition, there are constant irritants of things not working as I expect them.

Through the stress, I have been asking myself what lesson I am going to learn from what is happening. That focus on growth has shifted my thought process. I have been observing how I am reacting and the stories I am telling myself. I have been able to stop myself from going to blame and anger and frustration.

I was able to fully put this principle into practice on my latest incident in the new house. I was quite pleased with myself for figuring out why the garage door openers had no power until I realized that I had locked myself out of the house. After assessing my predicament, I determined that I would be able to get into one of the doors by removing the hinges from inside the garage, but I didn’t have any tools. So in my stocking feet, I walked next door to introduce myself to my new neighbors and asked for help. Fortunately, my new neighbor had the tools I needed and was also kind enough to come over to help me break back into my house. I was able to laugh about it even as it was happening, realizing that it was a memorable way to introduce myself into the neighborhood.

Through all of this, I have had an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I am still able to learn and change. Growth requires putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. Recognizing the stress that comes with change as a growth opportunity has been helpful for me. My challenge to you this week is to ask yourself what you are going to learn the next time you feel stress.

Waking Up to the Power of Intention and Contribution

It has been over a year since I became the CIO at Temple University and it has been an incredible year of self-growth as well as positive change in the organization. The Wiser Way program that we created has a been a big part of the culture change to empower and develop leaders at all levels.

Subash Reddy Karra just finished the Wiser Way program and described the personal effect that the program has had on him in this way, “Before I was always focused on what kept me up at night. Now I am focused on what gets me up in the morning.” He also described how the first exercise of crafting a mission statement initially felt like a joke. That mission statement is now guiding his daily habits and improving  his life as he lives more intentionally.

I have had several meaningful interactions with Subash recently as he reached out to me to express gratitude for the effect that I have had on him personally. One of the new habits he has established as a result of the program was sending a personal gratitude letter at the end of each month. I was the lucky recipient of his letter this month. On Thanksgiving morning, he sent a beautiful letter that lifted me up so much. Here is an excerpt:

“Thank you for putting in place changes that are always empowering employees like me (professionally/personally) and stretching me to dream bigger things to accomplish that I could never have thought of in the past.

The work you do not only impacts CS employees but also Temple University and we can only hope that the impact you make creates a chain reaction in others to do the same. Thank you so much for letting me be part of that experience with you. If you ever need an example of people coming around to the power of intention and contribution, please count me as one more example.”

We continued the conversation during the final Wiser Way session. Subash talked about several changes that he made in his personal life as a result of the program. He returned to regular yoga practice and instituted planning rituals to establish personal and professional goals. He indicated how the flexible work policies that we established allowed him to make these foundational changes in his life. He described himself as moving from a zombie state to waking up.

As I listened to Subash relate his gratitude and the extent of his personal change, I was astonished. Subash has always been a valuable and productive leader on our team. The culture we are creating is unleashing more of his incredible potential and he is feeling so much more joy and energy.

Subash’s journey is inspiring to me and gives me the courage to continue my work of developing positive leaders and organizations. That is what gets me out of bed every morning!

I would love to hear your personal transformation stories. How have you applied the tools and concepts from the Wiser Way training?

 

Practicing Vulnerability as a Leader

Photo by Gerd Altmann

I saw Brené Brown speak at the Philadelphia Conference for Women and was truly inspired. Brené’s work has been very important to me personally and is an integral part of “A Wiser Way” leadership program that we have developed at Temple. The week before I saw Brené speak in person, I taught a couple of Wiser Way sessions that introduced Brene’s “Power of Vulnerability” TED talk. As part of each session, I shared a painful personal story. I was nervous about sharing my story, because I was afraid that I would get emotional and cry. That has happened in a couple of instances to me in a work setting before and I have been mortified because I have labeled it as unprofessional.

However, I was introducing the concept of vulnerability and how important that was in being a courageous leader to the group. I felt that it was important to practice what I was preaching. I also wanted to demonstrate what it looked like to step outside of your comfort zone and sharing a painful personal story was outside of mine.

So, I practiced over and over before the class until I was able to relate my story without crying when I was at home. However, when I shared my story with the group, I got emotional and cried a little. To be fair, this is genetic. I cry during all Hallmark commercials and Disney movies when a parent predictably dies.

The difference for me this time was that instead of feeling mortified for crying at work, I was okay with it. This allowed me to regain control of my emotions and continue with my story during the session. I had relabeled being authentic and vulnerable as being courageous rather than unprofessional.

That label made a huge difference in how I experienced that moment and how I felt after. I was relieved to have gotten through the presentation, but I wasn’t embarrassed or feeling overly exposed after the class. In fact, I felt supported as several people came up after class to thank me for sharing my story. And I felt very honored when many of the participants shared their personal stories with me.

Lyndsey Karp sent me this note after attending the session. “I’ve heard the Brené Brown video you shared before and been to a number of vulnerability workshops, but yours was especially impactful because of the personal story you shared. I personally struggle with vulnerability and it’s a difficult subject to cover especially in the workplace where it’s tempting to remain professional and closed off. Watching you share so openly was something I won’t soon forget. Your courage showed me that being open and honest with your peers doesn’t have to take away from your success as a woman in business. I’m determined to reach my goals in my career and learned from you that sometimes being vulnerable can actually help with that mission where I always worry it will hurt. I wanted to let you know that the experience resonated with me and to say thank you.”

Being vulnerable at work isn’t comfortable, but it has been empowering for me. As I have practiced being vulnerable and authentic, my confidence in my leadership ability and effectiveness have both increased. More importantly, it is creating a safe environment for others to practice being vulnerable, authentic, and creative. It is a lot of fun and very rewarding to work in that kind of space.

My challenge to you this week is to step out of your comfort zone and practice being vulnerable. I hope you will discover that being your authentic self is liberating and increases your effectiveness.

Examining Self-Doubt

We had our first Wiser Way book club and we talked about “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It is a powerful, enjoyable, and thought-provoking book. As part of the discussion, we talked about the habit loops in our lives.

One of the participants talked about how he had a habit of self-doubt. I asked him to explain what he meant by that. He said that when he completes a piece of technical work that he confidently feels is done well, he has found that if he can have a bit of self-doubt, he is curious enough to recheck his work and has been able to find and correct errors.

This comment has stuck with me because I have defined self-doubt as bad and something to be avoided.

My definition of self-doubt is rooted in shame. It is when my inner voice starts saying, “Who do you think you are? You are not going to be able to do that. You are going to look like a fool!” For many years, it was my mental habit when I have felt challenged or exposed.

The difference in these two definitions of self-doubt is that one is grounded in humility and the other in humiliation. Humiliation leads to lashing out, blaming others or yourself, and limits your effectiveness.

One of the points in the book is that you cannot eliminate a habit, but you can replace it with another one. So, I have been working for several years to replace my habit of negative self-talk with openness and curiosity. This is similar to how my colleague described his habit of humble self-doubt. It means being open to learning and examining your assumptions.

When I am at my best, I have replaced that old script with a new one. It says something like, “I am not sure how this is going to turn out, but it will be fun to experiment. This is an opportunity to make a positive difference for others. What am I going to learn from this?”

The problem is that my old negative self-doubt habit crops up from time to time. I have found it in spades this summer around writing this blog. It has taken some time for me to recognize and replace the old mental habit. To do that, the most important driver for me is my belief that I have an obligation to help others be courageous leaders, which means I need to lead by example and be honest about how things are going. When I allow myself to be authentic and vulnerable, it not only is more effective, it is a lot more fun.

So, my challenge to you this week is to examine your mental habits related to self-doubt. Are they supporting you becoming the person you want to be?

Slow Down When the Ride Gets Rough

Photo by Andrés Nieto Porras  https://www.flickr.com/photos/anieto2k/ Creative Commons 2.0 License

 

My recent car problems have highlighted how the energy you bring to an interaction affects the outcome. I am not a complete Pollyanna as my story will show. Things do not always go as planned, but our reaction to unexpected bumps makes all of the difference in how our story unfolds.

I had an appointment one rainy morning, so I rushed to my car and was shocked when it didn’t start. After rescheduling my appointment, I settled in to wait for the AAA service to come and jump start my car. After my initial frustration, I felt grateful that it happened on a day where I had the time to take care of it. The service guys were terrific and helpful. It turned out to be the starter and not the battery, but the technician pumped up one of my tires that was low and called for a tow truck. The tow truck driver was able to get the car started by hitting the starter (who knew that would work?) and I drove down to the dealership thinking the car would be under warranty.

It wasn’t.

The 3-year warranty had ended a couple of weeks earlier. The service center agent was apologetic as he called to give me the news and the price of repair. He told me that he had talked with his manager and they had requested an exception from Honda corporate and was told that it wouldn’t be covered. I wasn’t angry or even annoyed. This is a change for me. In the past, I would have been outraged and been aggressive in pushing to get the repair covered. Instead I felt like it would work out. I told him to go ahead with the repair because I needed the car.

When he called to tell me it was ready, I asked him nicely to document the steps that he and his manager had taken so that I could write to corporate Honda and let them know that I was dissatisfied. I have loved my Honda Accord and we are a Honda family. The last five cars we have purchased as a family have been Hondas. I felt that it would be a compelling story for my appeal.

The manager called a couple of hours later to tell me that the repair had been covered. I was elated and felt great about how I had interacted with all of the people who were involved. I saw how the positive energy I felt had translated into a positive outcome. If the story ended there, it would be great, but more bumps were ahead.

After driving the car home, the electronic locks on the door were not working and neither was the fob. Since leaving my car unlocked didn’t seem like a good idea in the city, I manually locked the door and shut it. Just to make sure I could get into the car again, I tried to unlock it with the physical key and couldn’t get into the car. This is the point in the story where my old behaviors kicked in.

I was furious!

I kicked into panic and action mode. I angrily called the dealership, told them it was their fault, and asked what they could do for me. They suggested calling a locksmith. I googled to see if others had experienced this. I called my husband to complain. I started to try to figure out when I was going to have the time to fix this problem, which made me even more panicked and angry.

Then I stopped myself and took a deep breath to stop the freight train of thoughts. After composing myself, I walked back out to the car to experiment. I was curious about why my physical key wouldn’t open the door when it would open the trunk. When I was calm, instead of panicked, I was able to notice that the key unlocked the door in the opposite direction than I was expecting. Instead of turning the key away from the edge of the door to unlock it, you turned the key toward the edge of the door. This is completely opposite of how most keys work.

My anger and frustration had blown a relatively small problem into an enormous problem. I lost my capacity to be curious and open to assessing the problem. And I was spreading my negativity and anger to others, which made them less likely to be able or willing to help.

I called back the dealership, apologized for panicking, and made an appointment that was convenient for me to get the problem fixed. The dealership fixed the blown fuse that was causing the problem and I drove the car for a week without any issues.

The next week, my sister came into town to help me look at houses and I took the day off. We went out to start our day and my car wouldn’t start again. I was frustrated, but not angry. I knew that we had resources to do what we wanted to do that day. We Ubered to our house-hunting appointment and had the real estate agent drive us around. We had a great time and a fabulous lunch before heading home.

After we got back, I started the process of getting my car towed back to the dealership. Ironically, I had to reschedule the appointment I missed on the first day of my car woes for late that afternoon. I wasn’t too worried because I had a couple of hours before I needed to leave. However, when the tow truck wasn’t there in the promised time slot, I was getting worried about making my appointment.

At this point, my sister asked me why I wasn’t angry, saying that she would be furious in my shoes. I was able to tell her I knew personally that getting angry made things worse and left me less able to think. My recent experience confirmed that things worked out when I was able to put positive energy out during stressful situations.

I called AAA to request that my sister, who is not on my membership, wait for the tow truck, while I went to my appointment. When I told the agent my sister’s name, she exclaimed in delight that she had a sister with the same first and last name! After that, it was easy to get the exception made and my sister had a enjoyable interaction with the tow truck driver when he got there.

My car was fixed again by the Honda dealership. It turned out to be a faulty wire in the new starter. My car has been working well for a couple of weeks. I find myself feeling grateful every time it starts.

So now, when I find by blood boiling, I remind myself of how sure I was that I was locked out of my car and take the time to calm myself to get to a place where I can be curious and open to exploring other solutions with the belief that things will work out.

My experience is that things do work out in seemingly miraculous ways. My challenge is for you to replace your anger with the positive belief that things will work out this week and see what happens.

 

Why forgiveness is important at work

CC2.0 – Photo by BK – https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/22339160723

I have been studying about forgiveness lately and thinking about the role that it has in the workplace. Many of the books that I have been reading are about forgiving major acts of violence or hatred. My experience is that work is filled with a series of minor irritations that hurt our feelings and violate our sense of justice. When we dwell on these irritations, we get stuck in a negative space, which is why forgiveness is important.

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” – Martin Luther King

Early in my career, I was a systems engineer providing technical consulting to prospective customers who were considering purchasing my company’s software. During one memorable interaction, an engineer at a customer site was condescending and quite rude to me. As I left that appointment, I was upset and angry. I did not want to take that feeling home with me although as replayed the interaction, my feelings of outrage increased rather than diminished. It was a profound spiritual experience for me when I felt those feelings of anger and frustration melt away and be replaced by peace as I a made the conscious effort to let it go and forgive.

I see lots of opportunities for forgiveness at work:

  • Stop repeating the negative stories about a person, group, or system.
  • Stop complaining about not getting credit for work you did.
  • Stop obsessing about whether you said the right thing in your last meeting or how you could have done something better.

Let it go.

Energy is our most precious resource. An attitude of forgiveness at work allows us to stop sapping our energy with negative feelings and frees us from the past so we can focus on the present.

I loved this definition of forgiveness that Oprah Winfrey recounted hearing from a guest on her show.

Forgiveness is “giving up the hope that the past could have been any different. Letting go of a past that we thought we wanted.”

Forgiving doesn’t mean that others treating us poorly is right or that we don’t speak our truth about what happened with that person. It does mean that we stop focusing on what “should have been different” that holds us as a prisoner. Forgiveness is not for the person who wronged us, it is for ourselves and our own well-being. To extend forgiveness is to find freedom.

My challenge for you this week is to look at where you are holding on to a desire for the past to be different and practice forgiving and see how liberating it is. I would love to hear your stories about how you have been able to forgive.

 

 

What to do when a team member is struggling

By NMMIMAJ – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14699652

Several years ago, I was asked to lead the teenaged girls in my church. When I polled them to find out what they wanted to do, they told me that they wanted to have high adventure activities similar to what the boys were doing in scouting. That made me really happy because I love to be outside and was definitely up for the adventure. During the three years that I oversaw the young women’s program, we went white-water rafting, cycling, camping, hiking, spelunking, and exploring.

During one of our camping trips near Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior, we decided that we wanted to run down the Grand Sable Dunes. The dunes went steeply down for about 300 feet to the water and we warned the girls that anyone who went down also had to climb back up. That warning was enough to stop a few of the girls, but several of the girls and leaders were excited about the adventure and we all ran down the sand together.

Exploring the beach was interesting and fun and the water was cold and refreshing. Then we had to climb back up. In addition to the hot sand and steep embankment, the black flies would start biting anyone who stopped moving. It was not easy or pleasant climbing back up.

The youngest girl in the group was really struggling. She was in full melt-down mode, convinced that a helicopter was going to have to be called to come and get her out. When I told her that the only way out was for her to climb and that a helicopter wasn’t coming, she was dismayed. I stayed with her the entire climb up the dune, encouraging her and helping her come up with strategies for her to make it up the dune.

I had her focus on short term goals. I would have her pick out a rock or patch of grass a few feet away and then we would climb together to that spot and rest. We had to experiment with different ways of walking. If you tried to walk straight up the sand, you would slide down, which was causing her great frustration. Wide steps allowed movement upward. I tried to make her laugh and tell her funny stories as we rested. I was firm letting her know that she was going to have to do this on her own and that was the only way out. We celebrated how far we had come, which gave her confidence she could make it to the top of the dune.

It took a very long time and she was not happy when we finally made it to the parking lot where the rest of the group was waiting. A good meal and a few hours of rest restored her spirits and she was proud that she had made it up the dune. It is an experience she will remember and will give her the confidence to tackle other hard things in her life.

Another adult who was not with our group was observing my interaction with this girl and asked if I was her mother. When I said that I wasn’t, she said that is what she guessed because I had been so patient. My take away as a leader from this experience is that being present, patient, supportive, and firm when those around us are struggling is really helpful to their growth, even when they are not happy about it.

In this case, I could not carry this girl up the dune. She had to walk up the dune herself. In our teams at work, this is often not the case. It may seem much easier to take away the struggle instead of helping someone through it. The question to ask ourselves when we are tempted to step in and rescue a struggling team member is “What is the long term impact on this person and the team when we have to do something else hard in the future?”

 

Taking Flight – A Fun and Memorable Way to Learn DISC

Picture used with permission – Taking Flight Learning

There has been so much energy and fun around the “Wiser Way” training this week. We took the DISC Styles assessment that was administered and presented by Take Flight Learning. The DISC is similar to the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator in that it helps a person understand themselves and others better.

The twist and the thing that made the training so much fun and memorable is that instead of being assigned a personality style letter that we would forget, we were each told if we were mostly like an Eagle, Parrot, Dove, or Owl.

Like birds were seated together at the same table for the class. As we came into the room, we were asked to find our assessment and the instructor, who did not know anyone in the training, would direct individuals to different tables to start looking for their name. She could usually tell what kind of bird someone was by how they came into the room!

The first exercise was hilarious as the different tables were asked to discuss how they would go about buying a TV. The reports from each table were like caricatures and everyone was laughing at the extreme differences in approaches. And, of course, we were all analyzing our spouses, kids, and co-workers to try to guess what kind of bird they might be.

The training was practical, interesting, and fun. It demonstrated clearly why we need diversity of styles on a team to be successful and how important it is to understand the style of others if we want to clearly communicate and effectively work with them. The energy and excitement carried out across campus as everyone was talking about what kind of birds they were. Several participants told me how much they loved the session.

For me, I was quite surprised that I was a Parrot, with Dove tendencies. The only other time, I have formally taken DISC training was early in my career and I tested as an Eagle then. When I did my MBA, we did a couple of exercises that were like DISC and were asked to self-select which groups we belonged in. I distinctly remember not being comfortable in any of the groups. Because I could most relate to the Eagle or dominant group, I would eventually place myself in that group. But I never put myself with the gregarious Parrots. After all, I am an introvert.

The instructor indicated that most people don’t change drastically over time. So I talked with her after the class about my results. Most of my assessment rang true, but I was struck by some specific phrases. I know that earlier in my career, empathy and patience would not have shown up in a description of my style, but they did in this assessment. As I described my intense quest to find a better way to live and lead over the past ten years, she told me that there were many similarities between the parrot and the eagle and that it would be possible to change but would take a lot of effort. I can attest that it has taken a lot of effort as I have shifted to be others focused and that the journey has been amazing.

The challenge that I will give you all this week is the same one we gave to the Wiser Way participants. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who is a different kind of bird or has a different kind of style than you.

 

Aspiring to be Courageous

 

CC2.0 – Photo by BK – https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/16650220071/in/photostream/

I have been on a quest to be an effective leader for decades. The journey has been one of intense learning that has been guided by many mentors, some of whom I have known personally and others that I have only known through their writing. Much of the learning has been through trial and error with lots of mistakes.

At different times in my life, I have operated as a climber, martyr, victim, and courageous leader.

Previously in my career, I was a climber. I drove projects, sold my ideas, and constantly tried to prove myself. While I got things done, I wasn’t very empathetic or tactful and I often overrode others. Through tenacity and hard work, I did get noticed and promoted. I was also under extreme stress and constantly worried about how I was being perceived.

At home, I used to be a martyr. I felt it was my job to make sure that nothing failed and I frantically raced around trying to cover all of the things that needed to get done and make everything perfect. I over-functioned for my family and felt exhausted and overwhelmed much of the time.

When my first marriage dissolved, I became a victim for a while and started my intense quest to figure out how to live and lead in a different way. It was during this time, that I was introduced to Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability that shifted my definition of courage and helped me clarify the kind of person and leader I want to be.

Now that I know what it feels like to be a courageous leader, I don’t want to live or lead in any other way. It is liberating and joyful when I am authentic and open and vulnerable. Even though I know this, it is still hard to be so open sometimes.

I put together a model that defines four patterns of thinking for “A Wiser Way” leadership training. The four quadrants in the model are separated by how self-focused we are, which could be labeled as ambition, and how focused we are on others, which could be labeled as service. The model was influenced by Kim Knapp’s Fear to Freedom model and Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take.

During the “A Wiser Way” training this week, I shared some of my personal stories, That was uncomfortable for me to do. I did it because I want to be a courageous leader. I am asking the Wiser Way participants to step out of their comfort zone and be vulnerable and wanted to lead by example.

My challenge to you this week is to draw on your courage and practice being open and authentic and vulnerable.

Reshaping Culture through Small Deliberate Decisions

CC2.0 – Photo by BK - https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/29420915701
CC2.0 – Photo by BK – https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/29420915701

Last week, we launched “A Wiser Way” leadership training program and almost 90 people started on the journey to create a learning culture that will fuel excellence and innovation. The objective of the leadership training is to develop self-managed leaders and teams who cultivate a sense of curiosity, foster a culture of positivity, build a collaborative environment, consistently execute, hold themselves and others accountable, and lead with integrity.

More than one person has talked to me about how the training was startling because it demonstrates so thoroughly how different my leadership style and expectations are than the previous leader. I don’t think I understood until I heard these comments how disorienting it has been for people to adjust to my very different expectations in how we will do our work and interact with each other.

The training is designed to help with that adjustment and give individuals skills and practice in becoming more autonomous. As we designed the program, we made small but important decisions to reinforce the objectives of the training,

The training is not required. Requiring the training would be top down and authoritarian, which is counter to the principle of self-management. So instead of mandating the training, I invited people to participate. I talked about how excited I was about the training and thanked everyone who signed up.

The training was offered to every team member, not just managers or “high potential” employees. This sends the message that leadership is not tied to position. We expect leaders at all levels and everyone contributes to building our culture and instilling excellence. It also clearly demonstrates that every person is worth the investment and we believe everyone is capable of learning and growing.

We paired participants with peer coaches. As we assigned pairs, we deliberately chose individuals from different groups and at different levels in the organization. This reinforces the message of collaboration and gives a safe place to practice accountability with a peer. And again, it reinforces the belief that leadership is independent of organizational position and hierarchy.

We asked the group to set their own rules for the coaching cohorts. We introduced the GROW coaching model, which teaches the coach how to ask open-ended questions that allows the person they are coaching to set Goals, understand their current Reality, explore Options, and determine what they Will do. This model teaches self-management and the role of a manager or peer in encouraging self-management in others.

We chose to train a large group of people to create a common language and set of expectations. We will offer the training enough times to give every person who wants to take the training the opportunity to participate.

The feedback from the first session was incredibly positive. As we have designed and started to deliver the training, it has challenged me to be very intentional about small decisions and word choices. Something to think about this week is whether your small decisions and actions are supporting a culture of learning and excellence.