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. 

 

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.

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?

 

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.

 

Nurturing the Courage to Lead

Some of the feedback that I have received from my team is that my leadership style is so different than what they were used to that they were unsure about how to act. Someone told me that his experience was that every time he raised his head to present an idea, it was like “whack a mole” and so he learned to just keep his head down.

That is a powerful and painful story!

So, when I came in and said that I expected everyone to be a leader, I can understand why people were skeptical and hesitant to act.

To give individuals the skills and confidence to be effective and courageous leaders and shift their stories and the culture, I worked with Eric Brunner and Towanda Record in our HR Professional Development team to co-create a “A Wiser Way” leadership seminar series. The seven sessions cover the following topics.

  • Aligning to Purpose
  • Rewriting Our Stories
  • Understanding Self and Others – DISC
  • Crucial Conversations
  • Why to Reality – Power of Habits
  • Storytelling/Improv
  • Now What?

The first cohort of participants just completed the training.

The training wasn’t mandatory and a few people dropped out or didn’t attend all the sessions. Around 70 of the original 85 people were in the final sessions and gave us very direct feedback about what they appreciated and what they wanted to see changed in the training.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

The most vocal promoters of “A Wiser Way” are the participants who were the most skeptical coming into the training. The change and growth has been amazing to watch.

I sat back with great appreciation as one of the participants went on for several minutes when I asked her to explain what she got from the training to a visitor. She talked about how she had learned to have positive crucial conversations in a different way after decades of being in a leadership position and how it wasn’t hard and much more effective. She realized that she had been avoiding interaction with several peers. After the training, she had the skills, an empowering story, and the confidence to engage in a different way. She collaboratively engaged her peers and reported that she felt great about the interactions that she had been avoiding for months.

That is a powerful and energizing story!

“A Wiser Way” is an experiment and the culture is shifting already. We will give 150 more people the opportunity to go through the training by the end of this year. I am very interested to see what happens as more and more individuals shift their story from expecting to be whacked down to being courageous and confident leaders.

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?”

 

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.