Encouraging Words

“creative-writing-prompts-high-school Atlanta GA” by agilemktg1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the last several months, I have found it difficult to write my blog. There were a number of reasons for this. It started when I spent quite a bit of time on a blog that I decided was not appropriate to publish. This led to me to being discouraged and putting pressure on myself to come up with ‘better’ ideas that were worth publishing. So writing the blog became an obligation rather than a joyful expression of my learning journey. 

The inspiration to restart the blog came from a completely unexpected place. When I was riding with the Temple Police in their annual biking fundraiser, the head of the department, Charlie Leone, told me that he really enjoyed reading my blogs and noticed that I wasn’t publishing them very often. My explanation to him and my excuse to myself was that I had gotten out of the habit. That was part of it, but I was also worried that my ideas were not worth publishing.

That small interaction was enough to push me out of my head and into action. I knew that I wanted to start writing again because it helps me clarify and organize my thoughts. So, I needed to figure out how to reestablish the habit, but do it in a way that increased my joy and decreased the pressure on myself at the same time.

So I have started to experiment with what will do that for me. 

First, I decided that I would designate the time in the morning between when I get into my office and our daily standup as my writing time. This could mean that I have as little as 10 minutes or up to 45 minutes depending on what happens with my commute.

Second, I decided to allow myself to write about whatever was on my mind each morning. This meant that this writing is not devoted to publishing a blog, but to learning. Last week, one morning I wrote about my impressions from my recent trip to China. Another morning, I wrote about a high stress interaction with a colleague that will never be published, but helped me understand my reaction and formulate a strategy moving forward. To reinforce this idea, I created a private folder that holds my musings and is a safe holding place for all of my writing. If I decide a piece might work as a blog, I will move it to the blogs folder for further editing and sharing.

Third, I published a blog about books that I love that felt very safe and easy to write. As I passed Charlie a few days after it was published, he let me know that he saw and appreciated my blog. That small bit of encouragement meant so much to me and makes me emotional as I write about it. This reinforces to me how much positive interactions matter.

These small steps have made me look forward to writing again. 

Is there something in your life that you used to love and now dread? Is so, take some time this week to examine some small steps you can take to make it joyful again for you. 


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?


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?”


Maintaining Good Habits

Shred Boot Camp CoreFitness, LLC. Picture take by Cynthia Brown. I am in the blue shirt on the left center.

I love to exercise and move and sweat. I often say I am desperately seeking endorphins! Getting a good workout every day, preferably early in the morning, is critical for me to have the energy I need to do my job well.

Two weeks after moving to Philadelphia, I was completely bored with biking, walking and doing yoga by myself. I knew that I was going to have to figure out something different to keep me motivated and moving.

In looking for a new exercise routine in Philadelphia, I examined my routine in Ann Arbor to figure out what about it had kept me motivated and engaged for many years. These are the things that I identified as important to me.

  • Friends: I have several friends who I had been working out with for years in Ann Arbor and was able to combine social time with exercise. In fact, because we are all so busy, it was often the only time that I saw some of my friends.
  • Variety: I went to two different studios and infused other activities in making up my routine. Although, I religiously went to each studio twice a week, the workouts varied each time, which kept it interesting and challenging.
  • Measurement: I was able to measure my progress and see my improvement. Whether it was watching my power output increase on the bike or seeing my fat body mass decrease, I could see my progress and that was motivating.
  • Instruction: I like having an expert guiding my exercise. I push myself harder when I have an instructor and I like learning to do the activity correctly to avoid injury and perform to my highest capacity.

On one of my lonely morning walks, I stopped and asked an exercise group that was working out near the Art Museum what they were doing and how I might join them. I am now in my third week going to boot camp a couple of mornings each week. This class has three of the four things that support my exercise habit. It has been great and has felt like my first step in finding an exercise routine that will be sustainable in Philadelphia.

One framework that I find really helpful when I think about how to establish or maintain good habits is the Influencer Model outlined in the book Influencer, The Power to Change Anything. This model outlines six areas of influence we need to pay attention to when we are trying to change. When I map the things I value from my exercise routine, they map directly to the influencer model.


  • Friends = Social Motivation
  • Variety = Structural Ability
  • Measurement = Structural Motivation
  • Instruction = Social Ability

I have the personal motivation and ability to exercise, but adding social and structural support by joining a class here in Philadelphia makes it much more likely that I will maintain an exercise habit that I really value.

My challenge to you this week is to think about how you might strengthen a habit you value by adding social or structural support.

Achieving Ambitious Goals

IMG_0908This week I have been on vacation with my extended family in Breckenridge, Colorado. When we got to Colorado, we made an ambitious goal of hiking one of the mountains that is higher than 14,000 feet. Colorado natives refer to these peaks at 14ers. We chose Quandary Peak. At 14,265 feet, it is the tallest mountain in the 10 mile range that includes Breckenridge. It was categorized as “difficult” on the Top ten hikes around Breckenridge web page that we found. The hike is long and very steep, gaining 3450 ft in around 3 ½ miles. We had just come from sea level and knew we were going to need to acclimate to the high altitude before we made the attempt.

In order to get ready, we planned a couple of warm-up hikes that were marked “moderate.” We realized that a mid-westerner view of moderate and a western view of moderate are different on the first hike that we made to Mohawk Lakes. It may have been the extra two miles from the parking lot to the trailhead that are not included in the distance quoted for the hike. Or that we wandered off the trail and ended up scaling large rocks next to a waterfall. The waterfall ascent was too much for our youngest daughter and niece, who both opted to wait for the rest of us to return. Impressively, my niece’s husband completed the climb with his 7-month daughter strapped to him in a front pack. Luckily we found the trail on the way back down and didn’t have to try to climb down the same way.


Our daughters opted out of our second warm up hike, so Mark and I went with my brother and his wife. It was a beautiful and rewarding hike to McCullough Gulch. It gave me confidence that we could do the Quandary Peak hike the next day.

The only takers for the Quandary Peak hike were Mark, me and our two daughters. We were on the trail by 6:10 in the morning wanting to be off the mountain before any afternoon thunder showers rolled in. Most of the hike is above the tree line and on loose, granite rocks. It was difficult, steep, and long. We encountered our first of a family of mountain goats on the first ridge which was unexpected and interesting.

IMG_0982As we started the long final ascent, it was necessary for me to change my focus and goal setting. Instead of focusing at the top of the peak, I started focusing on walking fifty steps before needing to stop and catch my breath. Hikers who were on their way down were encouraging and motivating by telling us we were close and that the view was well worth the climb.

They were right. The view from the top was spectacular and it felt great to have accomplished such a challenging feat. It was also very satisfying to see the excitement and sense of accomplishment in my husband and daughters.

The most difficult mental part of the hike was the descent. I probably should have anticipated this, but it surprised me. We endlessly picked a path through the rocks, trying to minimize the jarring and not sprain any ankles or knees. We all ended up coming down at our own pace and spread out down the mountain. After the hike we were all tired and very satisfied that we had accomplished such a hard and rewarding goal.

Growth happens when we push outside of our comfort zone and try to achieve something that is worthwhile and hard. Do you have any goals that are stretching you out of your comfort zone? If not, think of how you might challenge yourself in the coming week.