Creating a safe learning community

“What does respect mean to you?” by retrokatz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I am teaching a leadership class at Temple for the first time. Since I agreed to teach the class, I have been vacillating between anxiety and excitement. It is definitely outside of my comfort zone and I have been worried about whether I am good enough. Since overcoming feelings of inadequacy and stretching has been at the heart of my leadership journey, I realize that I am not only the teacher, but this is an incredible opportunity for me to learn how to be a better leader.

The first class was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. After a quick summary of the structure of the class, I asked the entire class how we could create a safe learning community. Using the 1-2-4-All Liberating Structures, we established as a group how we would act and support each other on our growth journey. The list that the class created together was more comprehensive and better than the list that I would have created. They wanted to be able to be open and vulnerable and know that others would listen without judgment, as we practiced living the leadership principles that we would be learning.

Then we spent the rest of the class getting to know each other by telling our core stories. We arranged our chairs in a circle and each of us shared three core stories from our life and what we had learned from those experiences. 

Several people in the group got emotional, including me. We were sharing deeply about our struggles and our ability to overcome those struggles. We talked about health challenges, close relationships, death of loved ones, physical injuries and having to give up our identities of who we thought we were when unexpected challenges arrived. 

It was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had. There was so much wisdom and leadership in that room that had already been developed. I was reminded again that leadership is not about telling others what to do, but about creating an environment where the best ideas can surface and be shared.

At the end of the exercise, we talked about how differently we felt about the people in the room and the implications for leadership and life. As I was leaving the room, I realized that I don’t necessarily know the core stories of the people that I work with on a daily basis, and I am not sure how to do that in a safe and non-invasive way. 

I would love to hear about how you have created safe learning communities.

 

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. 

 

Best books about creating transformational organizational change

“Inspire Change” by Brian Solis by The Brian Solis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I love to read and am always looking for an engaging book. One of the ways that I deal with my daily commute is to listen to audiobooks, which has augmented and somewhat replaced reading physical books, which is my first preference, or ebooks, which I do for convenience, especially when traveling. My friends and colleagues know about my insatiable appetite for good books and so regularly send me recommendations. 

At work, I have been on a quest to create a high performing culture and have used books to help make that transition. Recently, Primed to Perform was recommended to me and it is my new favorite organizational change book. I have been recommending it to anyone who will listen and even gave it as a birthday gift last week. 

The premise of the book is that you need to promote both tactical and adaptive performance to excel. Most organizations focus almost exclusively on tactical performance. What I love about this book is that it combines a whole bunch of research about personal and organizational change management, and puts it into an easy-to-understand and measurable model. 

The model is called Total Motivation (ToMO) which assigns weights to the reasons why people do their work. Higher ToMo scores are directly correlated with the success of an organization. It is an elegant theory that incorporates many of the positive business principles and gives a way to measure how your organization is doing in creating a culture that is high-performing and fun. There is a great talk by the authors at Microsoft Research that you can view here.

We will be using this book this year as we continue our change in the Temple Information Technology Services team. We have already taken the group ToMo test as a baseline so that we can measure whether we are making progress in creating a more higher performing group.

Here is a list of some other books that have been very impactful as I have studied how to make deep change in organizations and myself.

I would love to hear your recommendations to add to my reading list. What books have been impactful to you on your leadership and organizational change journey?

Education as a gateway

Photo by Regina CC2.0 license. https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/b174d3cd-0949-4e43-8e96-2fa9535d8dbd

Recently, I was able to watch a live interview with Tara Westover, the author of Educated: A Memoir. Educated is a mesmerizing autobiography of Tara’s journey from childhood in Idaho, where she never had any formal schooling, to obtaining her PhD from Cambridge. The first time Tara went to school was when she started college at Brigham Young University. She got in by self-studying for the ACT and lying on her application saying that she had been given a rigorous home schooling education.

At one point Tara said, “Education can be viewed as either a gate or a gateway.” She said that she would not have ever been able to study at Cambridge or Harvard without the gateway experience she had at BYU. She also pointed to specific people who saw her as an individual and took time and had patience to take interest and provide guidance to her through her journey. That mirrors my experience. It takes both an opportunity and others taking a personalized interest for education to be a gateway.

Like Tara, I went to Brigham Young University for my undergraduate degree and found it to be an incredible gateway. I grew up in a large family and my dad was a steel worker. However, unlike Tara, my parents were very pro-education and actively encouraged me to excel in school, read and develop my talents. With a full academic scholarship and working part-time at the university, I was able to earn my degree without going into debt or getting financial support from my parents, who did not have the resources to help.

It was also a gateway to very different ideas that opened my worldview in so many ways. My freshman year, I took a colloquium that spanned science, literature, history, psychology, and philosophy. It was my first glimpse at how much there was to learn and it exhilarated and humbled me at the same time.

As my graduation neared and I was desperately searching for a job, I applied and got an offer to be an administrative assistant at the university. But I had also interviewed for a job that I really wanted with Novell in their quality department. As I was mulling over what I should do before one of my final classes, the professor stopped to talk with me and I mentioned my dilemma. He admonished me to not take the job as an administrative assistant and to take a risk and actively pursue the job at Novell. That advice, given in a hallway before class, changed the trajectory of my life.

As I have taken the time to reflect on these experiences, I have been reminded that as we strive to educate others, how important it is to see others as individuals and take time to connect. One of the reasons that I love working at a university is being part of these types of interactions with students and colleagues. At the core, education is about encouraging growth and that takes focused attention, patience and care.

At the Temple graduation last week, Provost JoAnne Epps asked each person in attendance to take a moment to think of someone who made a difference for them and then challenged each of the graduates to go and be that person for someone else. This week, I will extend her challenge to you. If we can each do that, we can create gateways for others and change the world for the better, one interaction at a time.

Constructively Dealing with Doubt

Photo by Oleg Magni

The CIO conference, that I attended last week, was filled with memorable speakers and people. One of the themes that weaved its way through the conference was how to deal with doubt, both from others and from yourself.

My first day at the conference was not pleasant. To be fair, it had more to do with me than the event or the other attendees. I felt out of place, an introvert at an extroverted event. I was not alone. It was a technology conference with many other introverts. After striking up a very interesting conversation with another CIO in the lounge about the challenges and rewards of running a global business, he thanked me for starting the conversation, admitting that he was an introvert and not comfortable starting a conversation. That made me smile, considering how I had been feeling most of the day.

The next morning, I woke up and through meditation and yoga was able to reground myself in my purpose. I was attending to become a better leader and to help develop other positive leaders as well. That purpose and focus transformed the rest of the conference.

My renewed outlook was rewarded when Fletcher Previn, the IBM CIO, spoke at lunch. As he described the scale of what he was responsible for and how he revamped the organization of 12,000 IT professionals after being named the global CIO, I was impressed and inspired. He also looked incredibly young and the first question from the audience was how old he was, reflecting what most of us were wondering. He handled it with incredible ease, flipping the question and asking the man how old he thought Fletcher was. When the man replied under 30, he just said he was older than that and then joked, “I am surprised as you are that I am the CIO of IBM!” I was intrigued that his immediate reaction was that the person who asked the question doubted his capability and competence. My reaction, which grew as I heard him speak about his approach to the organization and people, was awe mixed with a bit of jealousy.

The final day was an exclusive day for Women CIOs and I was glad that I decided to stay. I met some incredible women and the highlight of the conference was listening to Nicole Malachowski talk about her journey as an Air Force pilot. She was the first woman Thunderbird pilot. She described several times when her self-doubt almost stopped her as she experienced both doubt and encouragement from her peers. She also talked about how it would make her feel bad when people put the qualifier of “woman” in front of her job title when introducing her. That changed when she joined the Thunderbirds and understood that being a woman in that role opened up possibilities for the girls and boys who lined up to get her autograph. Before one of her airshows, she was talking with four girls when an angry young man approached her and told her that she shouldn’t be talking to the girls and that he hoped she crashed. Remarkably, she was able to recognize that she was there for the girls, so was able to control her anger and focus on the girls. If you get a chance to hear Nicole speak, take the opportunity because she is a great story teller.

These experiences reaffirmed that doubt is universal and each of us often deals with doubts imposed by others or ourself. How we decide to act when that happens is a choice. So my challenge this week is to notice when you hear doubt from yourself or others so that you can consciously choose how you will act when it happens.

The Cost of Complaining

It seems so normal to sit around the office complaining about others. While it might feel great to blow off steam and get others to sympathize, few of us consider the incredible cost to ourselves, our colleagues and our organizations of indulging in this behavior. This week, I have been acutely aware of the impact of complaining as I indulged in complaining myself and witnessed the impact of other’s complaints on my team.

The cost in terms of time is enormous. While many of us may justify a rant about another department or colleague as troubleshooting or clearing the air, the truth is that most of the time we repeat our complaint to whoever will listen and far past the time when the offense occurred.

In addition to sapping time, complaining also saps energy and potential.

The more we complain, the less hopeful we feel about being able to change a situation. How often do we just shrug and say, that is just the way that Sam or Sally or that department is and there is nothing we can do to change the situation. As a leader, the repercussions of complaining are amplified based on the position you hold. But, independent of position of authority, chronic complaining can destroy teams and make work miserable for you and everyone around you.

The effect on the recipients of the complaining is even more deflating. When they inevitably hear about the complaints or feel the animosity from others, they lose energy, focus, and motivation. The tragedy is that many people don’t feel that their efforts are wanted or appreciated at work and so they invest their energy and passion where it will be appreciated. When we focus on the things we don’t like about someone, our animosity and frustration grow. We discount their strengths and talent and are not able to see their potential.

The following advice about complaining from Robert Biswas-Diener in “The Three Types of Complaining” is invaluable.

  • Avoid dampening your mood by complaining only rarely
  • Complain only in instances where you believe it will effect real and positive change
  • Consider whether affirmation or some other strategy will work instead of complaining
  • Limit your exposure to complaining by limiting your exposure to complainers

Energy is the most important asset that we have as individuals and organizations. How does complaining impact your energy? What strategies have you found that reduce complaining in yourself and your teams? A great article to read for ideas is “The Next Time You Want to Complain at Work, Do This Instead.”

Appreciating Illness

Photo by Tracy Dekalb

As soon as the holiday break started, I got sick. This is not unusual for me. I remember this happening when I was in college. I would come home after finals and sleep seemingly endlessly for days before I felt fully recovered. Even now that I have a job that I love and don’t have the stress of finals, I still experience a similar letdown in my body when I get vacation time.

I am impatient with myself when I get sick. Over the holiday break, I insisted that I keep exercising and pushing myself. The result was that my sickness lasted for most of the break and, although I finally started to recover just before the new year, the cold came back in full force my first full week back at work.

The hardest part for me about being sick is my internal voice beating myself up for not doing more. Some of my reaction to being sick is related to how I view myself. I pride myself in how busy I am and how much I can get done. When I am not busy and checking things off my to-do list, I feel guilty and worried that others will be disappointed in me.

Another thing about being sick is that I feel less capable. It scares me when I can’t remember words and names, which honestly has been something I have struggled with for years. However, when I am sick, I feel inadequate and worried.

I also have the expectation that if I am purpose-driven and taking care of myself, I shouldn’t get sick at all. This belief is silly since sickness is just part of being alive. It means that I have been viewing being sick as a sign of failure of my body and spirit.

So instead of fighting being sick like I did over the break, this week I decided to be very intentional about how I responded. I tried to listen to my body. I didn’t exercise all week. I slept more, read a couple of novels, and did very little extra. I also spent a lot of effort to understand and rewrite my stories about sickness.

As I took the time to really unpack my thinking, I realized that many of my negative feelings about illness come from watching my mother succumb to MS. When my mother was diagnosed with the disease in her mid-forties, she went to bed for the next seventeen years. My Type-A mother who ran our neighborhood changed completely and was unrecognizable to me and my sisters. I was so angry with her for giving in that I have been fiercely fighting any sign of illness in myself. What I realize now is that it was her reaction to the disease, not the disease itself that was so distressing to me as her daughter.

That insight alone was worth a lingering cold.

I am feeling better and am intensely appreciative of the miraculous ability of my body to heal itself. The next time that I get sick, I hope to remember that the downtime will help my body repair itself and that my reaction to the illness will be an opportunity to better understand and become the person I aspire to be.

What has been your experience with illness?  How has it contributed to your growth as a person and leader?

What do you love about yourself?

One of the reasons that I like yoga is that it combines movement and meditation and often the instructors can open my mind along with my body. This definitely happened for me this week. I just started a new yoga series on my Gaia app called Every Day Yoga.  At the end of one of the sessions, the instructor encouraged me to reflect on what I loved about myself as I started my day.

The challenge startled me. I realized that it was hard for me to do. I could immediately identify what I didn’t like about myself.  The middle age ring around my hips was at the top of the list. As I pondered my reaction, I realized that I did not even let myself ask the question because I thought it was arrogant to contemplate what I loved about myself.

I took the challenge seriously and answered the question. I described what I liked about myself as if I were talking about a friend. This was something that I had never even tried before. It only took a couple of minutes, but it changed my entire outlook for the day. I felt a deep sense of joy and satisfaction as I openly acknowledged what I love about myself.

I know that I am often my harshest critic. Research shows that the highest functioning teams praise each other 5.6 times more often than they criticize each other. It seems that for each of us to function at our highest level, that ratio should also apply to our internal voice. Given how hard this small thought exercise was for me, I realized that I do not give myself that level of positive reinforcement.

What is your reaction when you ask yourself what you love about yourself?

 

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.

Changing Lives through Tech Training

Jamal receives his diploma upon graduating from the Temple Tech for Philly program.
Photography By: Marissa Weekes Mason

Earlier this month, I attended a graduation of 14 adults who completed the first step in the Project Home/Temple Tech for Philly joint program designed to give people, in the neighborhoods that surround Temple, marketable technical skills so they can change their lives for the better.

Project HOME is a Philadelphia non-profit organization empowering individuals to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness through affordable housing, employment, health care, and education. Temple University started as a night school in the Baptist Temple as a way to improve the economic situations of the laborers in the surrounding Philadelphia neighborhood. That story is core to the purpose of Temple; to find and polish the “acres of diamonds” that are in our backyard. I came to Temple because that purpose resonates strongly with me.

The idea for the program sprouted over a year ago when we met with the Project HOME IT team to discuss whether there was any need for some of the refurbished computers from Temple for Project HOME residents. As we talked about their needs, it became clear that we couldn’t put computers into the neighborhood unless there were trained technicians who could service them. It also became clear that teaching marketable job skills would have a much larger impact than distributing computers.

Erich Smith from Project HOME and Jonathan Latko from Temple took the idea and ran with it. They designed the Tech for Philly program to give participants concrete technical skills and experience. The first step is 10 weeks of intensive study learning how to configure, support, and repair Windows computers. The second step is passing the CompTIA A+ certification exam. For participants who successfully complete the first two steps, the final step in the program is an internship at Temple to get hands-on experience and training. Project HOME provides the connection into the community, facilities, and funds to pay the participants for their time. Temple provides the equipment, instructors, and internship opportunities.

The first graduating class from the Temple Tech for Philly program. Photography By: Cindy Leavitt

A lot of thought and effort went into recruiting and selecting participants who had the aptitude and desire to learn. The program requires incredible commitment from the participants.

I volunteered to co-teach two classes on networking. My co-instructor and I struggled about how to cover all the concepts that the participants were expected to know in the few hours in class. Other instructors said that they had the same struggle. This meant that much of the learning was left to the participants outside of the class time. In addition to lots of reading, the participants got to practice what they learned on computers they built for themselves using refurbished parts from the Temple computer recycling program.

The sense of accomplishment and joy was inspiring to watch as the participants received their diplomas. They had worked so hard and were proud of themselves. An especially touching moment was when the graduates presented a computer they had built to the lab manager as a thank you for the many hours he spent helping them learn.

Without exception, everyone from Temple and Project HOME who had attended the first meeting came up to me at the graduation to marvel at the outcome of that initial outreach. And the instructors talked about how much they enjoyed seeing the intense desire to learn from the participants and how meaningful it was for them to be part of their journey.

When we are involved in transformational learning, whether as a student, teacher, or organizer, it changes our lives for the better. It gives me great satisfaction to be a small part of this program.

How can you be part of transformational learning in the coming year?