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Life and leadership lessons from Frank Oz

When I was a kid, The Muppet Show was constantly on. Whether it was Roger Moore’s rendition of “Talk to the Animals” while fighting spies with laser guns, or Lynda Carter just being awesome, I loved watching. My most enduring memories of several songs are the version I saw on The Muppet Show – “In the Navy” (Viking pigs singing); “Time in a Bottle” (one of the more poignant versions rendered); “The Gambler” (old ghost gambler guy!); and “Grandma’s Feather Bed” (one of several collaborations with John Denver).

Even better than the guest stars and music were the muppets themselves. Scooter had dreams and a work ethic. Sam the Eagle suffered fools. The Swedish Chef was…well, Swedish. And I’m pretty sure Statler and Waldorf are related to me. When I started to learn more about the craft underlying the creation of The Muppet Show – and later all the movies – I was amazed by the talent and dedication of the people who brought my favorites to life.

Other than Jim Henson (who created the whole thing), the puppeteer who shined brighter than them all for me was Frank Oz. He created Animal, Fozzie Bear (Wakka! Wakka! Wakka!), Sam the Eagle, and others. On Sesame Street, he was responsible for Grover, Cookie Monster, and Bert. And lest we forget…he created Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back – a role for which George Lucas campaigned for an Oscar nomination.

Beyond puppeteering, Frank Oz is an acclaimed director – Little Shop of HorrorsDirty Rotten ScoundrelsWhat About Bob?, well…you can look up the rest on IMDB. He even occasionally made a cameo in movies – including that riveting prison clerk scene in Blues Brothers (sacred viewing in my childhood household).

I bring all this up because I want you to really understand what Frank Oz has accomplished throughout his career. This child of puppeteers who grew up to be so instrumental in so many lives.

And now – Frank Oz is on Twitter. And I adore him. 

Joining Twitter in December 2017 and using the handle @TheFrankOzJam, Oz has been authentically interacting with people in a way that’s both delightful and stunning. He shares thoughts as he goes about his day. He loves talking with fans, asking them where they’re from and admitting he can’t possibly talk to everyone because he still needs to talk to his wife!

Frank Oz on Twitter is a master class of humility – that most elusive of leadership traits we all claim people need, but often secretly dismiss as weakness when we see it. Since he’s been on Twitter, I’ve been glued to his feed and I think there are some things we can all learned from this man:

  • Remember the team: Oz nearly ALWAYS mentions everyone he’s worked with on just about every project. When complimented for his performance as Yoda, his response was it only worked so well because Mark (Hamill) interacted with Yoda like a real person. He throws credit to his collaborators far more than he accepts credit for himself.
  • Be honest and open: One of the more honest tweets came from Oz asking everyone which character the public thought he most identified with. After some guesses, he said, “There have really been wonderful guesses. Thanks! Okay. So. I most identify with Grover and Fozzie. Grover because he’s pure, Fozzie because as a kid I really wanted to be in show biz too. I shouldn’t have put Yoda in the mix. He is way deep inside me, but I’m not that wise.” Later he said, “Yes I identified most with Grover and Fozzie, but there are bits of me in all of my characters. Me being boring is Bert, me pure is Grover, me obsessed-Cookie, me neurotic-Piggy, me insecure-Fozzie, me uptight-Sam, me crazed-Animal. I’m a bit like each of them. And so are you.”
  • Know that luck is real: He very much acknowledges the opportunities he’s had, and knows how lucky he’s been. “I don’t know how I got here. I was this kid with low self esteem and a bit of talent. But a lot of people have talent and haven’t “made it.” Why did the planets line up for me? Why didn’t other talented people get their Jim Henson as a mentor? I don’t think I’ll ever know why.” When a follower mentioned his obvious “passion,” Oz replied, “No. Not true. I wasn’t passionate. I just had fun with Jim and my fellow performers. And I never struggled to find work. Jim always found it and I just delivered. Others have had to struggle.”
  • Don’t forget what work looks like: Frank Oz knows how weird it is that he makes a living through entertainment. He thinks about it a lot. “I’ve always believed the world is lopsided. I get attention & money while others do far more important things to keep our world going: Yes, those who work with their hands, as my father did, but also from teachers to mental health workers. Thank you all for keeping us afloat.” And them he immediately followed it with, “I’m not being humble. What i’ve done in my work life has given value or you wouldn’t be reading this. But what I truly believe is that the lesser known and lesser paid people are the ones holding up the world. So please give kudos to them. I’m doin’ fine here.”
  • Believe in the potential of others: “There are hidden artists among us. A really good short order cook is one. Bacon’s on the griddle, bread in toaster, slice bagel, orders shouted, crack eggs, flip bacon, grab toast, hands moving, body in motion. All rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. A beautiful thing to watch. An artist.” Seriously.
  • Cherish your elders and those who paved the way: Oz often thinks about the older folks he sees in his travels and encourages us to learn from them. “In my twenties, (mid 1960’s) I bought a video camera with a VERY heavy battery case and huge camera. Before they became too old, I recorded hours of footage of my mom and my dad telling me their life’s stories. They are gone now. But I have their stories. Don’t wait too long.”

If you struggle with how to interact with others, follow Frank Oz on Twitter and study his language use, approach, openness, and humility. He’s the internet hero we didn’t know we needed. He is the balm to all the anger in the world right now. If we could just try to lead with curiosity and listen for understanding, maybe we’d be a step closer to being the people we hope we can be.

I view kindness as a weapon. Not the kindness that is paternal or condescending or platitudinous. I mean the kindness that comes from true empathy; that gently acknowledges another’s travails and so makes her/him feel less alone. For me, there’s no stronger weapon. 

Frank Oz, 12/31/2017

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Authenticity, Executive Presence

 

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My Left Ear (a story in two parts): Part 2

In Part One, I shared the story of what actually happened to my ear. Here’s the rest of the story (with apologies to Paul Harvey).


What I Learned Through This 

I’ve been dealing with the whole left ear thing for about 6 months now, and I’ve learned a few things in that time:

  1. SSHL can hit anyone at anytime: One of the ways I’ve always handled situations is to get as educated as possible about the topic, so I’ve read a LOT about SSHL and know there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. It just happens. So sleep well tonight, everyone!
  2. Hearing loss has been tied to accelerated mental decline: This was surprising to me, but after reading about it, it makes sense. I notice I’m more withdrawn in group situations, and I still have one great ear! Imagine having almost no hearing. Experts think that the gradual withdraw from all social situations impacts brain stimulation, which can accelerate dementia. They aren’t sure yet, but the National Institute of Health has a study that will be completed in the next few years that should shed some light on it.
  3. Hearing aids are wicked expensive and seldom covered by insurance: My hearing aids will cost more than $3,000. If I was under 18, they’d be covered by insurance. For adults, there is very limited support. Even Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids fully (if at all). I’m lucky to be in a position where I can afford them (as well as the constant purchase of batteries). The fact they aren’t covered, and yet may help those suffering from cognitive decline, really bothers me. Luckily, Costco and other discount offerings are available for some models. [Note: In a kind of cosmic circle of life, my mom reminded me that my late Uncle Billy had multiple patents on hearing aid technology. It would be kind of cool if his work ended up in my ears.]
  4. Diagnosis and treatment took a lot: All told, I had 1 urgent care appointment, 3 specialist appointments, 1 MRI, 1 CT-Scan, and 1 hearing aid fitting. Oh, and I still need to actually GET my hearing aids, then do a follow up, and get yearly checkups. All of these appointments have happened at different times and at very different locations (opposite ends of town). Because I have good insurance and a job where I’m allowed to leave for doctors’ appointments, this wasn’t (much of) a problem. My out of pocket was negligible (yeah – even with an MRI and CT-scan). I can’t imagine what I would have done if I was in an hourly position trying to juggle childcare and no sick time, making $11/hour with a high deductible healthcare plan. We really need to work on this as a society and not make basic healthcare something that can threaten someone’s job and/or financial security just because they need to go to the doctor.
  5. The reactions of others were surprising: When I started sharing the diagnosis and ultimately the prognosis and need for hearing aids, I got different reactions. Some people chose to make a joke (note: probably not a good idea to make a “what?” joke to a person who just told you they are now deaf in one ear). My guess is these people didn’t know how to respond. Other people reacted like I told them I had a serious disease. I appreciate their sympathy and concern, but felt like it was out of place. I’m not dead. I’m not kept from doing what I like to do. I’m going to be okay. Really.
  6. It’s still pretty freaking annoying: If anything, my left ear is an inconvenience to me. I get frustrated sometimes – I can’t sleep on my right side and hope to hear anything, like an alarm, so I have to be aware of my sleep position. And the tinnitus gets annoying sometimes, but I’ve already adjusted somewhat. It’s tiresome to have to use my right ear for phone calls because now I have to hold the phone with my left hand but write with my right hand, which means I drop the phone. A lot. This may be one of the things I’m most looking forward to fixing with hearing aids. It’s the little things.

    Another “lend me your ears” joke. I clearly have a problem.


Why I Shared This Story:

A few reasons. It’s a quick way for me to update people I know but don’t see on a regular basis. It’s a way to help people understand why I may not have been paying attention to them in a crowded setting. I didn’t find much shared from people who experience SSHL, so maybe this will help someone else who finds themselves in this situation. Sharing my story is also a way to help people realize that health stuff hits people anytime, anywhere, for no real reason. So if you’re one of those people who blame people for their health problems, you’re likely to hear from me…and it won’t be pleasant.

I also thought it would be good to shed some light on the challenges of ongoing healthcare for a non-life threatening issue. Loss of hearing in one ear is hardly comparable to cancer, MS, ALS, or any of the other thousands of health issues facing millions of people every day. It does require treatment, though, which includes follow-up care. Does the fact that you can’t immediately notice I can’t hear out of my left ear impact the way you’d react to my requests for time to see the doctor? It could. Do you have an employee who misses a lot of time for doctors’ appointments? Do you find it suspicious? I bet someone in the office has made a joke about job hunting about that person (or even me, for that matter). Our health issues are supposed to be confidential, but make no mistake – people who are managing health issues KNOW others are judging them and often share details they’d rather not share just to avoid the ongoing bullshit and side-eye they get from their coworkers or boss.

I also shared this story because I was surprised at what I learned about hearing loss and mental decline, particularly in the elderly. I hope the National Institute of Health’s study points to some tangible actions we can take to help mitigate this and maybe throw some damn funding towards helping more people get GOOD hearing aids who need them. Technology has improved tenfold (my hearing aids will have an iPhone app), but prices have not come down. Yes, technically you’re getting more for your money now, but that money is a pretty high amount, especially for those on a limited income.

I hope to get my hearing aids fitted some time in January 2018. I’ll keep you posted on what that process is like and how they impact my day-to-day.

In the meantime, sorry if I was only half-listening to you the last time we spoke.

At least I have an excuse. 😉

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2018 in Authenticity

 

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My Left Ear (a story in two parts): Part 1

Part One: The Story of What Happened

In June 2017, a few days before the national SHRM conference in New Orleans, I noticed that my ears felt kind of clogged, particularly my left ear. I’d had allergies so I wasn’t particularly worried. Then, later in the day, my left ear kind of went dead. As in…couldn’t hear anything at all. I thought my phone was broken because I couldn’t hear the ring tone when I held it up to my ear. Still, I wasn’t worried because I figured it was congestion. I’d just take some Sudafed and use some Swim-Ear to dry it out.

The next morning, I still had no hearing in that ear.

Knowing I was getting on a plane in less than 48 hours (and knowing how PAINFUL it is to fly with a clogged ear), I went to Urgent Care to see what was up. The doctor there took a look up my nose and in my ears and said it was most likely congestion as he didn’t see any infection. Told me to take Sudafed and use nose drops for a couple of days and it would clear up.

Those of you who saw me at SHRM17 knew I couldn’t hear you if you sat on my left side. I suspect a few of you took advantage of that (bless your evil little hearts). By the end of the conference, I was starting to get some hearing back, so I was confident the doctor had been right and I’d be hearing again in no time.

A “lend me your ears” joke. I regret nothing.

Not so much.

Six weeks later, my hearing hadn’t really improved in that ear and I was starting to get tinnitus (not really a ringing – more like what you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear). I went to an ENT (ear-nose-throat) specialist who informed me it wasn’t congestion; rather, I was one of the lucky folks who experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). This was most likely caused by a deep inner ear infection I didn’t even know I had that damaged my cochlea. Even better…it turns out that had the doctor at Urgent Care recognized it, he could have given me steroids that would have given me about a 70% chance of getting my hearing back. As it stood, it was too late to do anything. The ENT said this with such remorse, I had to tell her it was going to be okay.

That first hearing test showed my right ear was fine. But my left ear was down to 75% word recognition.

I was told to give it a few months to see how it stabilized, then get retested. Oh, and I got to get an MRI because in a few cases (not many, but you want to be careful) some people (hardly anyone, but still) turn out to have a benign tumor growing in their ear bones (really, this hardly ever happens, but let’s just be sure).

No tumor. Nothing structurally wrong.

At the time of my second hearing test, I’d developed pulsatile tinnitus (so imagine hearing your heartbeat in your ear REALLY LOUDLY only it sounds squishy). Oh, and my left ear’s word recognition rating went down to around 35% – meaning it can’t really recognize any words at all, and most frequencies are right out.

Because of the pulsatile tinnitus, I was sent to get a CT-scan with contrast because sometimes (not that often, but you want to check) pulsatile tinnitus is caused by a vascular issue, like a growing aneurysm (don’t be worried…but schedule it soon), so it’s good to check these things.

Thankfully, the CT-scan showed no problems. And the technology is wicked cool, but I couldn’t have my eyes open because apparently it would have made them not work anymore. Which is a bummer, because I really wanted to see how it worked. This lack of underlying cause means 1) I’m in the 30% of people for whom there IS no cause of pulsatile tinnitus, and 2) I may never get rid of it. Or it will come and go.

Having been medically cleared of weird ear things, I made an appointment to be fitted for hearing aids.

I’m 43, by the way.

In case you’re wondering, yes – it does kind of suck to be told you have permanent hearing loss. It sucks even more when you did what you’re supposed to do and went to the doctor right away, just to not be given the right treatment. But I’m not mad about that because I was very congested and have had blocked ears my whole life, and the doctor went with the diagnosis that was the most likely scenario (when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras). It could have had a better outcome, but wasn’t guaranteed. Besides, I can’t do anything about it now, so what’s the point? And my right ear is still at 100%.

I was mostly worried because I’m a singer. And you really need to be able to hear the people around you (and yourself) to be able to sing properly. Luckily, it didn’t impact me TOO much – I just noticed I had to listen differently. I’m sure it impacted my pitch a bit, but no one threw anything at me, so I’m calling it a win.

I do notice that in crowded areas, or in a group discussion, it’s hard to follow anything going on across the way or from my left side. This causes me to pull back in group settings even more than I normally would because it’s just too tiring to try and follow everything that’s being said. I figured if someone REALLY needs me to respond, they’ll repeat themselves.

I’m not writing about hearing aids just yet, because this happened in 2017. Hearing aids are expensive and I need my flex spending account to kick in so I can go buy said hearing aids. I need 2 because just amplifying sound in my left ear would be useless (I’d hear mush LOUDER, which seems pointless). So I will have a receiver in my left ear that will transmit sound from that side to a hearing aid in my right ear, which will interpret the sound as though it’s coming from my left. HOW COOL IS THAT??? Hearing aid technology has come a long way. And I’m hopeful it will help the tinnitus. Basically, tinnitus is a result of your brain freaking out that it can’t hear something from an ear anymore, so it creates fake sound to trick itself into thinking the ear is working. It’s like phantom pain from a missing limb. Our brains are so freaking weird.

Next up: Part Two – What I learned.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2018 in Authenticity, Self-Awareness

 

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I hate your sunshine.

During a recent #Nextchat, the conversation turned to making sure current employees were honest about what life was like at the company when talking to candidates. I think I said something clever like, “Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows at any org, no matter how great it is.” Then Anne Tomkinson (a co-host of the chat) said something even MORE clever, “And you also never know what is positive or negative to someone. They might hate your sunshine.”

And while my life goal is to now have a situation in which I can turn to someone and yell, “I HATE YOUR SUNSHINE!”, I also love what Anne said. Because she’s right. Something you find fantastic at work, another person may hate.

Let’s take open floor plans.

Some people love them – they think they foster creativity, collaboration, and create a bright, open atmosphere that makes the office great to be in. And then there are normal people who just want to be able to close a door and get some damn work done every once in awhile.

See? Someone hated your sunshine.

Leadership styles aren’t immune from this, either. You may think a hands-off approach is the best way to work. All employees want a manager who stays away until needed, right? Believe it or not, there ARE employees out there who want a little more direction and guidance on their day-to-day work and wouldn’t see it as micromanaging. They’d see that as support.

Sunshine hated once again.

As leaders, we have to be careful that we aren’t forcefeeding sunshine to our employees. We have to be aware of the different preferences in our workforce. We can’t always accommodate them (sorry, you can’t really wear pajamas all day…), but we can at least stop trying to get them to love the same things we do. Be realistic, for goodness’ sake.

That whole credibility issue leadership seems to have in so many organizations can be tied to our inability to recognize how our people actually feel about things that are going on at work. It’s OKAY for you to think it’s awesome that the cafeteria is moving to healthy food only. You can even tell people that you think it’s awesome. But don’t try to persuade people who hate the idea. Just say, “I get it. It’s not for everyone.” And move on.

Sunshine is subjective. As soon as leadership recognizes that, we’ll be in a better position to build trust and credibility with our teams.

And that should bring a little sunshine to all of us.


Author’s Note: If, like me, you immediately started singing Len’s Don’t You Steal My Sunshine upon reading this article’s headline, I truly apologize. It will take you roughly 72 hours to remove it from your brain. 

 

 

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Broadway musicals and the lessons of succession planning

Recently, the producers of Dear Evan Hansen announced that its Tony Award-winning lead, a ridiculously talented Ben Platt, would be vacating the role on November 19. Platt originated the role through read-throughs, workshops, previews, and finally, a year on Broadway.

The show is a runaway hit, pulling in $1.5M a week and already providing its investors with a complete return on their investment (in a very short period of time for a small theatre on Broadway). While the show seems like it will be fine with a new lead, its continued success is uncertain and there has been no announcement of who will be taking over the lead.

For another show on Broadway, the continued success is known – it will not have any. Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 (heretofore known as The Great Comet because that name is just WAY too long) was nominated for 12 Tony Awards (3 more than the big winner Dear Evan Hansen). It starred Josh Groban, he of velvety-voice-with-little-inflection-but-everyone-loves-him fame. It was a rousing good time. It got a huge boost from the Tonys performance.

And then Josh Groban left the show.

Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowa (who originated Hercules Mulligan/James Madison in Hamilton) took over the role. People loved him, he had a wonderful debut. And about 3 weeks into his run, rumors started flying that Mandy Patinkin (Broadway royalty/Inigo Montoya) would take over the role. It was officially announced. And the backlash was loud and accusatory because Oak is black, Mandy is white, and the callousness of the move was jarring. Turns out, Mandy was horrified at what happened, and refused to take the role because of what happened to Oak – Mandy had been told Oak was cool with it…and Oak did not appear to be cool with it. Mandy’s out. Oak refuses to go back.

And now the show is closing less than a year after it opened because they have no “name” lead and advance sales plummeted.

So why would I spend nearly 400 words on the drama of a Broadway show’s missteps?

Because that could be your organization.

If you have talented, charismatic, AMAZING leaders in your organization and you haven’t planned for what happens when they leave, you could be The Great Comet.

Don’t be The Great Comet.

Because I’m an unabashed theatre nerd and have decided to run this metaphor into the ground, here are some lessons about succession planning you can learn from Broadway:

  • It’s not the actor, it’s the show:  If you rely on one person’s performance for your company’s success, you will fail. Make sure the team’s/unit’s/company’s work and systems are strong enough to stand on its own, regardless of who is in charge. You want that leader to enhance, not overtake, the work that is already being done. Hamilton, the cultural juggernaut that will probably play forever and ever, is able to survive cast changes all the time – because the book, music and staging is just SO DAMN GOOD. New cast members join in service to the show, and while you see their spin in the performance, it’s not about them. It’s about the outcome of the show.
  • Acknowledge that the original star can never REALLY be replaced and adapt: Having seen Ben Platt perform live, I am fairly confident that NO ONE will ever play that role to that level ever again. It is astounding. That doesn’t mean the next person will not be good. It just means they won’t be Ben. If they’re smart, they’ll try to find someone who can create the role in their own image, and adapt the show to that person’s strengths. Your company should do the same thing. If the last leader was well loved and well liked, acknowledge that. Then give them the opportunity to build and move on in their own image without changing the script.
  • Consider staggering your exits: If you know you have a cohort of leaders who might be leaving around the same time – whether it’s retirement or a spin-off or something else – you might negotiate with them to stagger their leaving (assuming you like their style). This will allow you to have stability throughout the transition, helping onboard the new leaders while providing consistency for the organization. Hamilton used this approach. Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) announced he was leaving. Then Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr) left (apparently to do Nationwide commercials). Then others in the lead roles left. But never all at once. It helped preserve the spirit of the show and passed on the cast’s culture to the next actors to join. That could work for you.
  • Have a long-term plan: Everyone leaves a company – whether they quit, get fired, or die. It’s the role of a leader to prep his/her replacement and plan that exit from the day they join. Lin Manuel Miranda has a group of trusted performers that he knows he can turn to take over roles. Javier Munoz was Lin’s understudy and replacement for In the Heights, and the same thing happened in Hamilton. Smooth transition. Who is YOUR Javier Munoz?
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: One of the biggest myths in succession planning is that you pick ONE person to be your replacement and you’re done. This is known as “pre-selection” and will bite you in the ass. You want to be sure that person can actually do the job, so you want to make sure you’re developing them. But even more pressing is the fact that someone who is high-potential enough to be identified as your successor may not want to wait in your shadow until you leave – they could jump to another opportunity. On Broadway, many understudies are working on originating one role while backing up another (like with Dear Evan Hansen’s Colton Ryan). There is no guarantee they’ll be around to take over full time. Or life gets in the way – Javier Munoz has had two health issues (thankfully, he’s okay). The point is, identify a potential pool of successors and develop their skills. It gives the company more options at the time of transition.
  • Communicate appropriately: That whole Mandy/Oak thing? Totally could have been avoided if all the right players met at one point to talk long-term goals, communication strategy, and impact to Oak. People get nervous when their boss changes. Having a good communication plan can help alleviate that. Additionally, if you DO have multiple people who could potentially take the job, think about how you let those who did NOT get the position know. What feedback can you give? What career options can you share? And…are you prepared for the reality that they may leave because of it? Whatever the case might be, the last thing you want to do is have a communication issue that results in NO ONE taking the role.

There you have it – lessons from Broadway on how you might approach succession planning within your organization.

See? The arts DO apply to the “real world.” (Support the arts!!!)

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2017 in culture, Decision Making

 

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Don’t you dare forget… (From #SHRM17)

[This post first appeared on the SHRM Blog on June 19, 2017]

Today saw the beginning of #SHRM17 in New Orleans, where 18,000 HR pros have descended upon the city for learning, fun, and reconnecting with old friends.

The shenanigans kicked off early in the morning with pre-conference workshops, but the sessions began in earnest after lunch, with concurrent sessions and SmartStage speakers. But the main event REALLY kicks off late in the afternoon, with the appearance of Juana Hart and our first keynote of the conference.

You have probably heard of Kat Cole – she worked at Hooters and learned the operations side of the business when the cook disappeared. Her hard work and inherent business sense led to her recommendation to be sent to Australia to launch restaurants there.  She became a Vice President at 26, and then moved over to Cinnabon to become President of the company at the age of 33. Her story is remarkable. She is remarkable.

Ms. Cole’s keynote was impressive – no slides, no teleprompter, just a woman telling her story and the lessons learned along the way. There were so many inspiring tales in the keynote. I have no doubt my fellow SHRM bloggers will cover many of them. There was one in particular, however, that stood out to me.

She had just finished sharing a major mistake she made early on at Cinnabon, and shared how that mistake led to lasting success. And then, she talked about how her mom keeps her grounded. Every day on her birthday, Ms. Cole’s mother sends her a card with the following reminder: Don’t you dare forget where you came from, but don’t ever let it solely define you.

This hit me on a personal level. Everyone carries the memories of where they come from with the through life. These experiences shape who we are and how we approach adversity. Some choose to overcome them and never look back. Others wallow in those experiences, using them as an excuse to stay stuck. Ms. Cole’s message from her mother is striking because it illustrates the power of remembering what got you through adversity, and then using it to move forward.

When we refuse to look back at who we were in the past, we fail to acknowledge the lessons we learned on that path. We don’t honor the person who made it through the wilderness. We pretend it didn’t exist. But that’s not really the case, is it? That person is always looking over our shoulder, whispering in our ear, holding us back or pushing us forward. It would be disingenuous to believe we aren’t still holding on to a part of the past, even as we look towards the future.

So why focus so much on this aspect – especially when it comes within the context of Human Resources? There are two reasons – one external, the other internal.

First, the external – we need to remember that each of the employees and leaders we work with are bringing their pasts to work. We have an opportunity to be that voice that says, “Yes, you ARE that person who dealt with a not-so-great past. But that doesn’t have to be who you are forever.” We can help these people move forward by reminding them of their strengths and working with leadership to recognize when humility and courage come together to make real change.

Second, the internal – HR needs to listen to that advice. For too long, we have wallowed in the belief that we have no influence. That no one will let us do anything. That we have fought like hell to get where we are today and it just doesn’t seem like it’s that far at all. And yet…look at how far we have come. We are no longer “personnel.” We have the ear of our CEOs. We may still struggle at times, but CHRO is a position that actually EXISTS in business – and it didn’t always. We have struggled and we will continue to struggle…but we have so much potential.

So my advice to you, #SHRM17 HR professionals – don’t forget where you came from….but DON’T YOU DARE let that solely define you.

Be more. Do more. Dare more.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Authenticity, Conference Posts

 

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Gratitude – it might be enough

I am attending the WorkHuman conference in Phoenix, AZ this week. This is the third year in a row I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of this conference, and I like it because its focus is less on “how to” and more on “why.” The conference organizers try to find speakers and keynotes who align with the message of rewards, recognition, and living one’s authentic self – a phrase a few years ago I would have snorted at. Actually…I do still kind of snort because the word is overused, but in today’s world of social media with increasing pressure to put on a good public life while struggling in private, I think the message is valid.

In yesterday’s opening session on the big stage, we watched a Q&A with Chaz Bono, a transgendered individual who knew from an early age he didn’t fit the female body he was born into. His story is rather well documented – being the child of celebrities must have compounded the challenges of dealing with these feelings of “different” – and he was open about the challenges he faced with substance abuse. Chaz shared he was 13 years clean and sober, an impressive accomplishment for anyone.

Chaz has refocused his efforts to make a living as an actor (including a secret project he can’t talk about…mysterious!) but continues to use his celebrity to support people (including kids) who are going through the emotions of transitioning and to help them understand they are not alone.

There were a lot of powerful messages in Chaz Bono’s Q&A, but one stood out to me. He was telling the story of going through his journey to sobriety and shared the advice a mentor gave him. The key to sobriety and not relapsing, this person said, was GRATITUDE. Be grateful for what you have, and you won’t dare relapse.

Now, not all of us struggle with substance abuse. But we are human beings who go through life with one burden or another. We may wallow in self pity. We may think life isn’t fair. We may dream about the next big thing without paying attention to what we have RIGHT NOW.

All of this got me thinking…am I grateful? Do I practice gratitude?

If I’m honest with myself, I would say…sort of. I do have a tendency to dwell on things. As an affirmed introvert, I internalize a lot of things, turning it over and over in my mind, wearing out my thoughts like a well-handled piece of paper. This can be an addictive way to live – stress and anxiety can be comforting because there is little accountability to act on things. And it’s easier to be stressed and anxious when you think you don’t deserve what you have.

On the other hand, I do step back from time to time and recognize that I am incredibly fortunate. I have a well-paying job. I have an amazing husband. I live in a beautiful state. I have the flexibility to make daily choices that millions don’t. So I recognize those things and AM grateful.

I just don’t say it out loud very much.

Therefore, my takeaway from Day One of WorkHuman is to be more vocal about my gratitude; to tell those around me I’m grateful for their presence; to vocalize to those who are struggling that sometimes the ability to draw breath is enough to be grateful for today…and we can figure out the rest tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Self-Awareness, Uncategorized

 

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