Unplugging so your team can as well


Photo by Cindy Leavitt – Lake Michigan at sunset near Grand Haven

This last holiday weekend was the first time in months that I unplugged from work and relaxed. I really needed it and felt that my team needed the downtime as well. I even took Friday afternoon off to get a head start.  

Just before I signed off on Friday, I got what seemed like an urgent email, which I should have planned on because it so consistently happens on Friday afternoons. Instead of forwarding the message to my team, I asked when a response was needed. When the answer was the day after the holiday, I arranged with the requestor and my boss to communicate the request to the team after the holiday.

Then I threw myself into the weekend, like I normally throw myself into work. I read three books, cleaned the deck, baked cookies, hiked with the family and listened to albums picked by family members. 

I have to explain about the albums. In an effort to connect with my family through this pandemic, we have started a quarantine family night. We meet every other week over Zoom to talk about a shared experience. We decide on what the shared experience will be and have two weeks to complete whatever we decide to do before we meet to talk about it.  So far, we have read a book, watched a series of movies and listened to albums that each family member selected. The music albums were the most fun. The variety was vast, ranging from rap to country to classical. Yesterday, we met to talk about the albums. Each person chose their favorite song from their selected album and explained why they loved it so much. After we listened to the favorite song, everyone talked about their reaction to the album. We had great discussions and all did not like all of the music but were able to disagree, have a ton of fun, and create shared experiences.

The long weekend gave me a chance to recharge and deeply connect with my family. I am grateful that I got it and that my boss supported me taking the time. Because of that, I was able to pass on that gift to my team.

My question for you to think about this week is: How good are you at unplugging so that your team can as well?  

Establishing New Rituals

Image credit: https://tinycards.duolingo.com/decks/QDWqXrB8/daily-routines


One of the reasons that we have habits and rituals is because they are efficient and save energy. COVID disrupted most of our routines and reestablishing new habits takes active thinking and effort. Luckily, we humans are quite resilient and adaptive, and we quickly establish new routines and rituals. We have now been working remotely for seven weeks which is enough time for us to feel more comfortable with the new normal. At the end of last week, we met as an IT team to examine our new rituals and explore what we would like to continue.  

Here is a list of the top six things the group came up with:

Take mental/physical breaks during the day.  Whether it is walking, exercising or just taking a break or lunch. This was identified by over half of the group as the most important ritual they would like to continue. We have tried to establish a rule for 25 or 50 minute meetings to insert time to stand up between Zoom meetings. Many people are taking individual or family walks a couple of times each day.

Meet virtually instead of in person. We have found that holding virtual meetings in some cases is more productive than face-to-face meetings. Surprisingly, this is especially true of really large meetings, like our all staff meeting with more than 200 people that we have been holding via Zoom. The casual and interactive nature of the gathering and online break-out rooms provide more meaningful connections. Not having to travel also means that more people are able to attend.

Have daily stand-ups with your team. This Agile and DevOps practice was already being done in several groups, but it was quickly adopted by many as the most efficient way to coordinate and feel connected with the team. Our leadership daily stand-up is scheduled for 15 minutes every day and I find the connection and coordination at the beginning of the day is invaluable.

Continue to work remotely some of the time. Many jobs that we previously thought of as requiring us to be on campus can be done very effectively from off campus. Our help desk, desktop support and classroom support teams are an example. We have integrated all of these teams into the virtual workflow and are able to resolve user issues more quickly. Last week, our customer satisfaction score was a perfect 100%, up from the average of around 95% pre-COVID. This was even more remarkable because students were in the middle of final projects and exams.

Take time for family and friends. The line between professional and personal life has disappeared in this COVID world. We are regularly seeing children, spouses and pets pop into our virtual meetings. The downside of this is that we can never get away from work. Setting boundaries around work and prioritizing family and friend time was very important to our team.

Insert fun into work. Virtual happy hours, gaming sessions, dance parties or just adding humor into our work life has helped our teams and made everything better. I have a colleague that sends me a COVID Cartoon of the Day. It helps to start your work day with a solid belly laugh.

Although we are apart, we are united in a global experience that is allowing us to rethink how we did things in the past. What rituals have you and your teams established that are helping you get through this pandemic?

Practice Pays Off in COVID Crisis


As Temple University has transitioned to being fully online, the IT team has responded to the challenge with innovation, collaboration and grace. As the leader of the team, I have been awed and very proud. And it is not just the IT team that has risen to the occasion. The entire Temple community has come together.

Within days, our IT team significantly expanded our remote secure access services to our systems and specialized software. We gathered and distributed laptops to students, faculty, and staff who didn’t have their own equipment to move to the online world as we closed the physical campus. We partnered with colleagues across campus and our vendors to rapidly provide training to the campus. We shifted to a virtual help desk over a weekend without any interruption in service to the campus. We have done all of this while improving our satisfaction rate as measured by a post-service survey to over 97%.

Why were we able to make this transition in such a smooth way?

The answer is clear from the feedback that I have been given from the team and across campus. We had already moved our primary learning platforms to modern cloud solutions that made the transition much easier. And we have been practicing for this kind of emergency for years as we have formed a creative and collaborative culture in ITS. 

Specifically, we already had flexible work guidelines that encouraged everyone to work with their managers, teams and customers to identify how they could provide seamless service when they worked remotely. 

Our help desk had moved to a software call center last November to enhance our support and give that team the ability to participate more fully in the flexible work guidelines. This meant that our help desk had practiced and tested working completely virtual before they had to to comply with the shelter in place order.

Our teams had practiced being innovative and thinking out of the box in our weekly Wonderful Wednesday/Whenever time. Many of the ideas that we implemented in response to the pandemic crises came from the research and exploration individuals had already been doing.

Because our team had practiced, we were prepared and have been able to respond to requests quickly and creatively. Instead of scrambling to figure out how they would be able to do their job from home, the ITS team members were able to focus on helping the rest of campus move to the new paradigm.

As you reflect on the unprecedented changes that the pandemic has caused, what had you practiced that helped you and your teams make the transition? What can you start practicing now?



Give Yourself Permission


One of the nicest things about the holiday break is that you can take time off and not have emails and work pile up while you are out of the office. So many of my colleagues talk about how much they appreciate having this pause at the end of the year.

All of my kids and their significant others were able to come to our house for Christmas this year. My husband and I decided that our gift to our family was a shared experience. We did a quick road trip to New York City where we watched the Harry Potter plays, walked all over the city, and ate some amazing food. Then we settled in at home, playing board games, solving puzzles and enjoying being with each other. We had so much fun. 

For me, it was an exercise in being in the moment and really relaxing into the joy of having my family around me. I noticed that a few times during the break, I started to get upset as I worried about a specific concern about one of our kids. Each time that happened, I was able to catch myself and stop. I knew that my ability to stay out of worry and cherish the person in front of me was key to making the vacation positive for our entire family.

Our time together was everything that I hoped it would be. It was wonderful.

My return to work has been hard. Since starting back at work, falling asleep has been difficult, which is unusual for me. I have been lying in bed, ruminating about a number of things and feeling anxious that I am not able to sleep. This means that it is difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I find myself choosing to turn off my alarm instead of getting up to head to the gym. The combination of lack of sleep and exercise has left me feeling exhausted and unfocused.

As I was lying in bed this morning, after ignoring my alarm for the second time, I found myself mentally berating myself for my lack of discipline.

When I realized what I was doing, I was able to stop. 

I chose to enjoy that moment, instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with me for not wanting to get up. I reveled in my warm bed, knowing it was my work from home day and I could use my commute time to sleep in. This was my gift to myself. 

I felt so much better after that small shift in mindset. 

One of the most transformational lessons that I have learned in my leadership journey is the power of our own stories. The question I always ask is “What story am I telling myself?” When I take the time to do this and investigate, I find that most of my stories are not true. I fundamentally believe that everyone is doing the best that they can and my job as a leader is to create an environment where everyone thrives. This means that I need to stay out of judgement and blame in order to look for ways to improve the situation. Extending that philosophy to myself is what I have been working on for many years.

I know that my ability to stay out of worry and cherish myself and the person in front of me is key to making the positive transformation happen. Doing this requires stamina, energy, focus and consistency. Sometimes I get tired and need to give myself permission to rest.

How do you rest physically, socially and mentally? How do you find respite from your recurring worries?

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?


Joyful Interviewing

Before I went through the interview process at Temple University, I would not have thought that interviewing could be joyful. However, that is how I would describe my experience as I went through the many months of interviewing at Temple.

A recruiter reached out to me about the job at Temple last November. I didn’t know much about Temple. My niece had attended there for a couple of years so I knew where it was, that it was a public university, and that they had a good basketball program. The job description, written with the emphasis on the mission of accessibility, affordability, service and excellence, caught my attention. I was intrigued and my conversations with the recruiter and head of the search committee deepened my interest.

At the time I felt that it didn’t make sense to pursue the opportunity because our youngest daughter has two more years of high school and we are tied to Ann Arbor until she graduates. Before I officially applied for the position, my husband, Mark, and I talked about whether we could make it work if I got the position. For me, it was a matter of integrity that I would not pursue the position unless I would be willing to accept the job. Mark was supportive and encouraged me to throw my hat into the ring. We decided together that we would figure out how to make it work if I got the offer and that I needed to pursue the opportunity.

My first interview was a videoconference with the search committee. A couple of the committee members had U-M connections and they were genuinely enthusiastic about my experience and leadership. I met the committee in person when I was invited back to campus a couple of months later for two marathon days of back-to-back interviews.

When I saw the interview schedule for my visit, I knew they were serious. I met with the President, Provost, Deans, Vice Presidents and key faculty and staff members. In preparation for the interview, I talked with my executive coach and wrote my intention to leave everyone that I met with feeling peaceful and energized and that I would get enough information to determine whether this was a place where I could be the positive leader and help in the development of a virtuous organization.

My two days on campus were amazing. My affection for Temple started with my first interaction with a charming student who offered to help as I examined the campus map the night I arrived on campus. It continued to grow during the two days of interviews as I asked each person I met why they chose to work at Temple. Their passion around the mission and the possibilities at the university was inspiring and infectious.

I came home energized and excited but Mark was worried. His concern increased when I was notified that I was one of two finalists and Mark and I were invited for the final day of interviews and a tour of Philadelphia in April. This is when we started serious discussions of how we really could make this work while preserving our marriage and family life.

The final day of interviews had the same energy as my first visit to campus. My favorite interaction of the day was a town hall meeting where all of computing services were invited to attend and ask me questions. That town hall was so much fun with a lots of laughter and great questions. I surprised the group by asking them a couple of questions. The first question I asked was “What are you most proud of that you have accomplished at your time at Temple?” The second question was “What do you want the incoming CIO at Temple to know? For the first question, I asked people to share their responses openly. For the second, I asked them to just write down their response and turn it in so that I could know what was important to them. Those responses gave me valuable information that was crucial to my eventually accepting the job.

While I was interviewing, Mark was investigating. He took the subway to the Temple campus, walked around, struck up conversations with students and parents, tried to attend a class (it was the day of the final exam so he decided not to stay), and went to the bookstore to buy Temple gear. Mark summed up the visit by saying that Temple had fallen in love with me and I had fallen in love with Temple. This was definitely true.

Trying to figure out how this could work with our family was the hardest part of the entire process. Reality dashed my fantasy of having all of us relocate to Philadelphia immediately. Mark can work from anywhere, which is helpful, but children and pets are not easily transportable between locations. We explored many different scenarios through various bouts of stubbornness and hard conversations. The option that we could both live with was to have me work Monday-Thursday at Temple and work remotely on Fridays from Ann Arbor until our youngest graduates in a couple of years.

I was thrilled when I got the call that Temple had selected me as their next CIO. The final barrier to me accepting the job came down to whether it would be feasible for me to telecommute one day a week for two years. While I had been transparent during the entire interview process about our youngest needing to stay in Ann Arbor, the possibility of regular telecommuting had not been discussed as a way for me to balance my work and family obligations. The initial answer was a partial yes with time restrictions that wouldn’t work for my family.

For me, it was a practical and well as a philosophical question. Telecommuting is expected for high tech professionals and I have had flexibility in my work schedule for decades. Also, I had data from the computing services staff that telecommuting was important to them from the question that I asked at the town hall meeting. More broadly, it raised concerns for me about how much autonomy I would have to lead and make changes. Even after talking with the head of the search committee and the provost, the reluctance for me to telecommute remained.

So I turned down the offer.

I did this in complete freedom and peace. As much as I loved Temple and wanted the opportunity, I knew that I couldn’t be the positive leader that I aspire to be if it wasn’t possible to make this change. A friend, who is a positive business consultant, encouraged me to give Temple the opportunity to fire me before they hired me to see if they were really capable of and interested in creating to a more positive work culture and whether they would be open to other changes that I would want to promote.

Happily, Temple demonstrated that they were interested in changing and offered to have me work with HR on a telecommuting policy for all of computing services. This satisfied my practical need to telecommute while advancing my ability to create a more positive and trusted work environment. And it gave me a very positive signal about what a good fit we would be for each other.

I start at Temple in August.

My challenge for you this week is to approach your current job and your next job with integrity and freedom. You should always be looking for a good fit. Remain curious and approach interviews as conversations where both sides are learning about each other.