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Category Archives: Authenticity

“I love me” – a lesson for leaders

At a recent work function, an employee was recognized for her tenure with the organization.

She was introduced, presented with her plaque, and applauded for her service. And then she gave a small speech.

The speech was very much her personality – heartfelt, spontaneous, funny, endearing. But one part stood out over all others.

She began the section by thanking those who helped her in her career. She acknowledged all the support and mentoring she received from those around her. She then talked about all she was able to accomplish, comparing herself to a butterfly. And then she paused, realized how much she was going on and on about herself, giggled, and said, “I love me.”

The crowd laughed. They loved it. It was so “her.”

She laughed along a little bit, then got serious and said, “It took me a long time to be able to say that.”


Imagine being brave enough to stand in front of a room of your peers – and your leadership team – and say those words.

How would your organization react? I mean, really….what would the people in the room say if this happened at your organization?

Would they be supportive? Would they applaud? Or would they politely clap while giving each other knowing glances that this is clearly a “career limiting move”?

For all our humanity in the workplace, we actually kind of suck at dealing with heartfelt emotion. When someone expresses gratitude earnestly in public, it makes us uncomfortable. Why is that? Have we really decided that people AREN’T people that we should pretend we have no emotions? I hate drama as much as the next person, but I also recognize that people bring different parts of their lives to work. Some folks look forward to work as a place to leave the chaos of their life behind. Some people enjoy work for the relationships they’ve developed. Some people overshare (we didn’t need to see videos of your knee surgery, but thanks!). Some people never share at all (it seems like there’s that one person who no one really knows, and it turns out they have something like 12 kids and were in a movie once).

The point is, we as leaders have done a poor job setting a good example about what is an is not okay in the workplace in terms of emotions. Someone probably cried in a VPs office once and it freaked him/her out, and the next thing you know, all the “how to succeed in business” articles started defining professionalism as “no emotion.” That message of “stoicism = strength = success” has been perpetuated for years.

But then came Emotional Intelligence and suddenly we’re all supposed to care about our feelings, and worse than that…THE FEELINGS OF OTHERS. Good lord. We are not equipped for that – especially leaders. We’ve worked hard to HIDE emotions, and promote those who do the same. So what happened? Some leaders went WAY too far the other way, and were all about sharing and caring and wearing their emotions on their sleeves. Which, frankly, makes a LOT of people uncomfortable. And again, emotion became something to make fun of.

We need to find balance, people. We need to find a way for people to BE people without BEING all over the other people who don’t like to BE in public. Leaders have a chance to connect with their people, and help their people connect with other people – in a completely appropriate and professionally supportive way. No, we don’t have to be in each others’ weddings – but recognize some people might. We don’t have to go out to happy hour with our coworkers – but there are a lot of people who do. The best way to promote balance is to watch and learn from people who are successful, but are also unafraid to show emotion. They cry, they vent, they laugh uncontrollably at cat videos. But they still get shit done and they still command respect from those around them.

Back to our story….


After the employee being honored finished her speech, she received a standing ovation. And it reinforced everything that’s good about being yourself at work. About acknowledging the mistakes you made during your career. About being grateful to those who helped you along the way. About the pain of growing up. And about the satisfaction of kicking butt at your job for a long time.

This is a person who had leaders who believed in her. Who pushed her when it looked like she needed pushing. Who encouraged her when she needed encouraging. Who supported her humor, her intelligence, her sass, and her abilities. In short, this is a person who had leaders who allowed her to discover who she was – someone who could finally say, “I love me.”

Leaders – if you can have ONE employee be able to say that, then you have done your job. You have helped someone realize their potential. You enabled instead of dictated. You got the hell out of the way and watched someone flourish because of what was inside them.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

 

 
 

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A word about workplace clothing…

As a diehard fan of the now gone What Not To Wear, I fully accept the power of clothing to impact the way a person is perceived, but more importantly…how a person feels.

We’ve all had a moment where we put on a new pair of pants or a kickass blazer and thought, “I will OWN this day. Boom.”

We’ve all had that day where we put something on that we’re not super excited about and then spend the rest of the day fussy about how it fits, how it looks, how it feels.

And for some of us, we have an article of clothing that we absolutely love that’s slightly different from the mainstream – it could be shoes, it could be a button-down shirt, it could be socks, etc. Whatever it is, it is somehow magical and we love it. And we don’t really care if you love it, but we kind of hope you do because how could you not? IT’S AMAZING.blog

Then we run into coworkers who somehow feel like it’s their job to make comments about what you’re wearing. And those coworkers may think they’re being funny…but they’re not. They make you second guess what you look like and now you never feel like wearing that awesome tie again. Because now you’re that “tie guy.”

Look, I get that we all have different tastes. We all grew up with different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels – this impacts the way we dress and what we think looks fabulous. Shouldn’t we be celebrating this instead of judging it?

Here’s a rule of thumb: NEVER comment on something someone is wearing unless it’s to compliment them. Here are some examples of what that might sound like:

“That color looks great on you!”
“I like your tie.”
“I want to steal your shoes, they’re so cute.”
(That last one might just be something I tend to say…)

See? Not once did someone make a joke about the color, print, cut, or otherwise about what someone was wearing.

Do people sometimes show up in the office looking horrific in your eyes? OF COURSE THEY DO. Remember, we all have different tastes – one person’s treasure is another person’s nightmare. I, for one, don’t get shoulder pads. Then again, I have the shoulders of a football player and have never needed them. (The early 90s were a tough time for me.) But I don’t comment on it – why ruin someone’s happiness about how they look?

Unless someone’s dress is unsafe, unallowed, or impacting their ability to be successful – don’t worry about it. Compliment them, or just shut the hell up.

The world won’t end because someone wore white socks with black shoes.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Authenticity, Skillz, Teamwork

 

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What does inspiration look like? A Canadian actor, apparently

The last day of a conference is always a little rough. You’ve seen a lot of sessions and they all start to blur together. At some point you hear, “yada yada yada” and think it’s insight.

And then you see a keynote that stops the conference cold and hits everyone on a gut level.

That keynote was Michael J. Fox.

In case you have been living under a rock, Michael J. Fox was THE guy for awhile – Back to the Future, Family Ties, Spin City. What we didn’t know is that in 1991, at the age of 29, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and told he would only have about 10 years left to work.

Ten years.

Can you imagine how limiting that must have been? Most of us would have ranted and raved, felt sorry for ourselves, been paralyzed by fear, or some other “end of world” reaction I assume we’ve all imagined at one time or another.

Michael J. Fox went out and starred in Spin City. He continued to act. He wrote 3 best-selling books.

He lives every single day. And he is happy.

On the last day of the Work Human conference in Orlando, there was a lot of anticipation to see him speak. Recent reports were that his disease was progressing quickly. Would he be okay onstage? Would he speak at all?

Lucky for us, he did speak. You could tell the disease had progressed. His speech was a little slurred, you saw the tremors. But you also saw the glint in his eye, the quick wit, the humor – the PERSON. He never shied away from talking about Parkinson’s and how it impacted his life and the lives of those around him. He talked about the challenges of hearing his time to work was limited. He shared the frustrations of not having early detection for Parkinson’s (by the time he had the tremor that led him to the doctor, 80% of his dopamine-producing cells were already dead).

But most of all, he shared the joy he finds in life.

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He shared it by the way he talked about his family – his parents, his wife, his 4 children. He shared it in the way he focused on what he CAN do, not what he can’t. There were people who cried throughout his entire talk because despite the fact you could see the disease had affected him physically, you saw he chose to see the disease progression as a gift – it gave him focus, honesty and clarity.

I can’t possibly capture the impact Michael J. Fox had on the audience. Nor can I capture all the incredible quotes. Here is a taste of what the crowd experienced:

  • On his father: “My father was in the military. When you had a problem, he was the first person you wanted to call and the last person you wanted to talk to.”
  • On hearing the doctor tell him he had 10 years left to work: “It was after 10 years that I finally got good. Parkinson’s stripped away all the tricks and forced me to be honest.”
  • On his disease: “I accept things. That doesn’t mean I’m resigned to them, but I can accept them them as they are and move on.”
  • On caregivers of those living with disabilities: “There are no rules for people with a disease or disability – let them define their own life and what they can do.”
  • On his foundation: “We are the leading private funder of Parkinson’s research.”
  • On delaying disclosing his diagnosis: “How can the audience laugh at me if they know I’m sick?”
  • On the future: “You can’t project what’s going to happen in the future. You just have to see how it goes.”

I’ve always cringed when someone comes up to me and says, “Happiness is a choice!” Mostly because it’s accompanied by a big giant smile and is usually preceded by a statement akin to, “It looks like someone has a case of the Mondays.” But when Michael J. Fox says he made the choice to not let this define him and to fill his days with life, I totally believe it.

This keynote made the conference for me. It’s one thing for people to tell you to choose happiness.

It’s another thing entirely to see someone who did it.

This is what inspiration looks like. A 54-year-old Canadian who loves to walk outside and feel the dew on his feet and spend time with his family.

Who knew?


If you’re interested in learning more about the Michael J. Fox Foundation or if you want to donate to fund research, visit https://www.michaeljfox.org/

 

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Free Your Mind (with apologies to En Vogue)

As you know, I’m at the Work Human confernce own in Orlando, FL this week. Lots of good stuff happening here – conversations, candy, donut walls (it’s a thing), and sessions.

The topics on these sessions are aligned with the theme of the conference of finding a new way to work by finding a new way to be. The speakers today have been diverse in their backgrounds and have unique points of view about the research out there around happiness, engagement, and resilience. Not all resonated with me (as I suspected), but I found interesting elements in all that I saw.

envogueSome of my key takeaways from today:

  • You have to free your mind:Biggest takeaway (and most consistent message) is that the brain is easily tricked. Don’t assume success will make you happy. Be happy to lead to success. The self-talk we use primes our brains for success or failure. Amy Cuddy (in a session that surprised me with its relevance) showed us how our ability to expand physically and temporally leads to success.  The brain is a powerful thing – use it to your advantage.
  • The research is still fairly new, and evolving: It’s always a challenge when everyone uses the same research to tell different (yet related) stories. So you hear the same stats quoted in a number of different ways. The good news is that further studies are underway and those who look at happiness and resilience recognize the need to balance it with data and realism. I’m curious to hear more.
  • People are starting to get vocal about their annoyance with generational stereotypes: Yes. People at different stages in life are looking at different things. But deep down, they are all individuals. You could almost hear the collective groan when a sweeping generational statement was made…much like you could hear the cheer when a speaker swatted down those same stereotypes. It’s an interesting time in HR (and business) as we figure out the workforce of the future. I’m seeing a trend towards personalization and away from generalities. And I think that’s a good thing.
  • Personal experience colors interpretation: Now that you’re done thinking, “duh,” hear me out. I mentioned the research is all pretty much the same right now…yet we heard two speakers (Shawn Achor and Caroline Adams Miller) use the same info in VERY different ways. Shawn focuses on happiness and positivity and how starting from a place of optimism leads to success. Caroline uses her own story of overcoming bulimia to make the argument that happiness only comes after hitting rock bottom and facing adversity. Both pretty much agree that success starts with mindset…but such a different tone in those sessions.
  • I want to start EVERYTHING with a Haka Dance: Google it. It’s awesome.
  • The topic isn’t going away: As more research seeks to tie happiness/resilience to engagement, I think you’ll see more and more companies trying to get on the happiness bandwagon. That’s all well and good – but remember, it needs to fit into the culture of your organization. Not everyone will embrace a “meditation room,” but I bet a lot of employees would appreciate a quiet spot to recharge (favorite quote: “Headphones are the new cubicles.” Thanks, Yvette Montero Salvatico!). It will be interesting to see where this leads; I just hope folks remember that it’s a PART of the solution…not the solution itself.

Overall, it was an interesting day that has provoked a lot of discussion around relevance, validity and applicability. And isn’t that what conferences are supposed to do? Make you think?

Hint: Yes. Yes, they are.

There’s one more day of the conference! Follow the Twitter feed on #WorkHuman. 

 

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Leaders, remind your people they have value (no matter what those laws say)


NOTE: This post might be interpreted as “political.” That’s cool. Remember, my opinions are my own. And goodness knows…I have opinions.


You know which laws I’m talking about. This one. And this one. Thankfully, this one got vetoed.

There is plenty of material out there discussing the laws, the impact it will have on local communities (Paypal and Bruce Springsteen put their money where their mouths are…with more to come, I’m sure). I’ll leave the social discussion and moral outrage to others who can articulate it with such dexterity (like this incredible post by Jay Kuhns).

Through all this, I started thinking about everyday employees who had to hear that message from their government. And when Ed Tsyitee tweeted “HR people in Mississippi and North Carolina must be doing a collective facepalm right now,” I realized…he’s right. How messed up is this? Here we are – a nation of businesses supposedly obsessed with employee engagement, now confronting a message that we care about our people…as long as our people are exactly like we say they should be.

What a tough pill to swallow. valueadded

Employees are just trying to make a living. They want to live their lives. They want to fit in in a way that feels right to them. For god’s sake, they just want to go to the bathroom.

Leaders (true leaders) know how important it is to allow people to be authentic. And no…I don’t mean they have license to be assholes. I mean that people have the right to live as they are – male, female, gay, straight, furry, LARP-er, Star Wars nerd, Star Trek geek – whatever makes them who they are. Leaders sometimes face ridicule (or worse) for supporting their zany crew. These leaders are simply trying to keep their team motivated to do the work the business needs to do.

For those leaders of employees who face this challenge on a daily basis, here are some things you can say to impacted employees:

You matter.

You make a difference in the organization. You a person worthy of respect. You are a human being – with the same strengths, flaws, quirks, foibles, and greatness as everyone else.

You will be held to the same standard of work as others. You will be praised when you knock it out of the park. You will get a talking to when you goof up. After all – we have a job to do.

You can share who you are with this team, because we support you. And you are free to hum the theme song of ‘Dallas’ when the spirit moves you (unless it’s during a presentation to the executive team – that could be bad).

I’m so glad you’re on the team.

You. Are. Valued.

No matter what the outside world throws at your employees, you have the power to remind them they are PEOPLE first. They are YOUR people. They are the lifeblood of your team. They are the reason your business gets things done.

Leaders – you can set an example for others. You can show the fearful people that “different” isn’t something to punish. We’re all different.

And we all have value.

 

 

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A skeptic’s view of happiness at work

The Intro Bit

If you know me, follow me on social media, or just make up a fake backstory about me (please make me a pirate), you probably realize that while I like to laugh and have fun, I’m not a particularly “up” person.

What I mean by that is I am not a Pollyanna who looks on the bright side of things and always believes things are all going to work out. I tend towards realism with a dose of cynicism. (And a side of eyeroll for good measure.)

So when the whole “happiness” thing started hitting the internet, I was skeptical.  It sounded like just another way of talking about work without having to have any data or research behind it beyond a Cosmo quiz. And deep down, I suspected Pharrell had something to do with it.

Therefore, I did what every good skeptic does. I researched it so I could debunk it.

The Sorta Science-y Bit

Here’s the thing – while some of the “science” out there is a little sketchy (or…a LOT sketchy), there is some really compelling evidence that happiness at work makes a difference to the success of an organization. The iOpener Institute has developed a happiness measure and released some findings in the Wall Street Journal – happy employees stay twice as long, are more likely to help their colleagues, are less likely to be absent, and are more efficient. (For more info, read this white paper.)

Basically, happy employees perceive themselves to be more connected to their organization and are therefore more likely to stay on task and are more likely to choose to be engaged at work than non-happy employees.I_want_to_believe5

The Skeptical Bit

While certain research points to some strong correlation between happiness and connection to business, there is no predictive model between happiness and business performance indicators.

Also, happiness sounds suspiciously like “satisfaction” to me – and you can have satisfied employees who are completely happy to do as little as possible at work. In fact, some research even suggests that job satisfaction has a NEGATIVE impact on productivity. So I’m curious to see more about additional research into this area.

The ‘Here’s How to Make it Work’ Bit

While still preliminary, there’s enough out there to point to definite benefits to supporting happiness at work. As leaders and HR professionals, you are in the perfect position to help employees make the choice to be happy, thereby gaining some positive outcomes for the workplace.  As employees, no matter what your role, you have the power to decide about your own happiness at work.

Some things to keep in mind as you embark on the journey to Work Happyland:

  • Happiness is unique to each person: One of the reasons a predictive model is so hard to find is because “happy” means different things to different people. Watching this video of a tiny horse trotting makes me ridiculously happy. Other people prefer NASCAR. So you have to be willing to adapt to the needs of your team and organization.
  • The pressure to be happy can bum you out: One psychological experiment reported by the Harvard Business Review suggests that the increased expectation of employees to build an “upbeat” workplace can lead to resentment – having the opposite effect on the workplace. Don’t force your people to smile all the time. Create environments where happiness can happen organically.
  • Sometimes, it’s okay to work angry: Some people are more focused, able to detect deception, and negotiate WAY better when they have a little edge. Keep in mind that sometimes happiness can hurt productivity and quality, so don’t be worried if someone isn’t giddy all the time.
  • Help folks set boundaries: We continue to blend work and life more and more – and it’s stressing people out. By making it okay for your employees to leave home at home and work at work, you give them permission to save their best selves for when they need it most.

The research in this area is still emerging, so I am keeping my eyes and ears open as we learn more about happiness at work. I also reserve my right to roll my eyes every now and then if you try to tell me it’s a standalone metric, or if you try to be all obnoxious about it.

On the other hand, my inner skeptic wants to be believe. After all, we spend A LOT of time at work. So why not at least try to make it a happy place to be?


 

Want to join me in learning more about happiness and other good stuff in the workplace? Come to the WorkHuman 2016 Conference in Orlando, May 9-11, 2016. To register, go to  and use promo code WH16MF300 for $300 off.  THAT should make you happy!

 

 

 

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Expanding horizons

This is my plea that everyone – employees and leaders alike – learns how to think outside of themselves.

That they look beyond their personal role to see how they impact the world around them.

That they try to improve the processes they work within.

That they reach out to those they work with to offer support when needed.

That they reach out to those they work with to offer a kick in the butt when needed.

That they step back and think about how the offhanded comment they made in a crowded room might have been interpreted.

Earth_GlobeThat they realize that they made a positive difference in the lives of the people they interact with.

That they see their value in the world and know it spreads beyond those who see them every day.

That they recognize their power to influence…and use their power for good.

That they learn how to say “no” so that others say, “I understand.”

That they win with humility.

That they lose with grace.

That they never lose their love of learning – or that they discover it in the first place.

That they remember that every single person they interact with is going through something in their lives that others don’t know.

That they see the potential of the team, organization, and community that they are a part of – and want to help everyone reach that potential.

That they want to build, not destroy.

That they learn that success comes in many forms.

It is my hope that everyone – employees and leaders alike – realize it’s not all about them.

It’s about us.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2015 in Authenticity, Clarity, Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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