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All I want for Christmas…is $10

In February 2018, I will be participating in the Hustle Up the Hancock in Chicago, IL.

This event, which raises money for an excellent cause, sees almost 7,000 participants climb 94 floors of the Hancock Building in Chicago. That’s a lot of stairs. I may not have thought this all the way through. [insert mild panic attack here]

But I’m committed to getting breathless by choice to help those who are breathless because of lung disease.

I accept your thoughts and prayers, gentle guffaws, and outright mocking for attempting something like this while being woefully out of shape. What I really need, though, is your help.


The primary goal of this event is fundraising for people who suffer from respiratory disorders – from those who struggle with quitting smoking to people whose lungs are on the brink of no longer working. I have committed to raising $1,000 for the Hustle. All donations will support the mission of Respiratory Health Association to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research, and policy change.

I know $1,000 seems like a lot. But if I can find 10 people who are willing to go to my donation page and offer a $10 donation, it would help! If 1,000 people donate $1, that would be awesome, too. (And I would not turn down 1 person offering $1,000, but let’s not get greedy).

If you can donate, I’d appreciate it. If you can’t donate, that’s cool. I’ll take those thoughts and prayers.

The important thing is raising awareness for an organization that has done some truly amazing stuff.

Thank you!

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in Personal Development, 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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Leadership takes time (Lessons from the Super Bowl)

I know, I know…yet another post about football players and what we can learn from them in moments of great stress. But it’s such a rich topic, people. I mean, really.

I’ve actually already written some posts about how players respond after a big moment – some do well (Peyton Manning), some not so well (Richard Sherman). So when I saw the post-Super Bowl press conference with Cam Newton (or “presser,” as they say in the biz), I figured I’d leave it alone. There are plenty of people out there who will weigh in on his behavior. Besides, I have work to do.

But then I read some of the comments and tweets from his peers and from sports reporters. Reaction is kind of all over the place, with a majority of people landing in the, “We get you’re upset, but you need to be a leader” camp.

People will contrast Peyton Manning’s performance in post-loss interviews with Cam Newton. They’ll point out that Peyton is always gracious, that he always makes time for the press, that he waits to congratulate his opponents. And to some extent, that’s fair.

But Peyton has been around the league for a long time, not just as a player, but as the son of a quarterback who played for a pretty terrible franchise. He learned over time the importance of humility, of dealing with the press, of using reporters’ first names, and of managing his image. In short, Peyton has learned the lessons of leadership. He did not spring from the forehead of Zeus with perfect leadership behaviors (despite what some would have you believe). He has made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on. cam

Having seen the footage, I do think Cam Newton was pretty unprofessional. He was an outspoken player throughout the year, gregarious and emotive, unashamed of how he celebrates. And he suffered a crushing disappointment – so he shouldn’t have been surprised by the onslaught of questions. If you’re chatty when you’re winning, the press expects you to be chatty when you lose. It shouldn’t be a surprise to him. He’s been called out for his “pouting” (for lack of a better word) in previous years when the team lost. This year, he was much better…because his team hadn’t really lost. As soon as he was faced with adversity, the smile was gone and he his frustration was apparent.

Despite this, I think Cam will be okay.

Cam is young. He did not grow up in a football family. He is an emotional player who hasn’t learned the art of equanimity with the press. That is not, however, everything that he is. He gives footballs to kids. He volunteers at elementary schools. He came back from a horrific car accident that could have killed him to be the NFL MVP.

I guess I just hope that this one moment does not end up defining him as a LEADER. Leadership takes time. Leadership takes repetition. Leadership takes mentoring.

Think about your own leadership growth. Can you really say you’ve never messed up? Multiple times? The only difference between your leadership growth and Can Newton’s is that he’s getting paid a LOT of money…and has the added pressure of learning in public in a 24/7 news cycle.

I think the seeds for Cam Newton are there. And he has support.

When asked about the presser, Peyton Manning had this to say:

“I’ll tell ya’, Cam couldn’t have been nicer to me.He was extremely humble, congratulated me, wished me the best. I told him just congratulations on his outstanding season, and just what a great future he has ahead of him. He’ll be back in that game, I can promise you.

Only time will tell if Peyton is right. But we should give Cam Newton that benefit of time. Rome wasn’t built in a day…and neither is leadership.

 

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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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How open-minded are you….REALLY?

If I were to ask this question of a random sampling of leaders and employees, how do you think they’d answer?

Most likely, everyone would present themselves as an open-minded, thoughtful human being, unswayed by their bias. (Except for that weird guy from the third floor. But he’s probably a sociopath.)

The reality is that people don’t like to think of themselves as closed-minded, or at the very least, they know better than to admit it. That’s because companies work like hell to hammer home the fact that inclusion, respect, diversity, love, peace, unicorns and rainbows are an integral part of a successful workplace. And it IS important to be inclusive and respectful.

But deep down, we all kind of suck at it.

I don’t mean we’re all assholes and racists or anything. I just mean that we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve got control over our natural biases. And not just the big ones (gender, race, age, etc.) – I’m talking about white-collar, blue-collar, where you went to school, the shoes you wear, what music you listen to…that kind of stuff. Even the most well-intentioned, self-aware person has inherent biases. [For an eye-opening revelation about your own biases, take the Project Implicit test from Harvard. It’s free. And a little spooky.]

All those little biases add up to a pretty significant impact on our decision-making.

Don’t believe me? Look at your hiring practices. Many organizations have some sort of diversity initiative in place – whether it’s monitoring and reporting, or a specific process to ensure a certain candidate pool mix. Hopefully, these programs ARE making a difference for your organization on a macrolevel.

Now look at the teams around you. Look at YOUR team.

Is everyone just a little too…the same?

Do you all like the same things? Have similar backgrounds? Make decisions the same way?

Did you even realize it when you hired them?

BOOM. That’s bias in action, baby.

If you want to be closer to the level of open-mindedness you claim to have, you have to be aware you’re not perfect and be proactive in your approach to make a difference. Here are a few things you can try, either as a leader or an employee:

  • Hiring practices: When hiring, consider taking off names, addresses and school names off the resume. Just look at whether the person meets the required education level and has the right experience. (Bias exists for peers just as much as hiring managers!)
  • Job design: Question whether the education level you’re requiring for a job even makes sense. A college degree does not magically make you a better employee and mean you can do the job. I’m not saying it’s NOT a good thing, but question your implicit assumption it’s required for success.
  • Teams: Challenge your need to like everyone you work with. I mean, it’s nice and all…but a lot of times we like people because they’re just like us. Same can be boring and stifle innovation. Build and/or join a team with people who will challenge your thinking.
  • Silos: Go learn more about the people who do work that is wildly different from yours. If you’re in a corporate office, do some ridealongs with the field folks. If you’re in the field, shadow the corporate people. Understanding of the unknown helps breaks down bias and assumptions.
  • Ideas: What happens who you propose an idea and someone questions it? Do you defend it to the death? Do you think the other person is an idiot because they don’t agree? Do you assume they don’t like it because they don’t have your background? All of the above? To be truly open-minded, you have to be open to the fact that you DON’T know everything…even about the topic you’re supposedly THE expert in. Listen and learn.

These are just a few ideas on how you can set up an environment that encourages open-mindedness through behavior, not intention.

Give one or two of them a shot. After all, you’re open-minded….

Right?

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Self-Awareness

 

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When things go wrong, will your people do right?

Today was the kind of day that business travelers tell horror stories about.

I’m speaking at two conference this week (MNSHRM and WISHRM), and today was the first day of a week of travel. It was supposed to be easy. I had just gotten my TSA Pre-Check, so security wasn’t a problem. And I was flying Southwest Airlines with a good boarding position (A 31 – not too shabby).

How hard could it be?

My husband dropped me off at the airport one hour and forty minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off. I figured I’d drop off the bag, breeze through security and grab a little breakfast.

And then I encountered this:

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A line to end all lines. And it was even worse inside.

Turns out, Southwest had a massive computer system outage today. They couldn’t print boarding passes from many of the service desks. They couldn’t print baggage claim tickets.

They had to do EVERYTHING by hand – check in, boarding, manifest clearing – everything.

And you know what? They did it with a smile.

The skycaps worked quickly. They had their process down and did what they could to keep the mood light. (I got through that ridiculous line in 35 minutes.)

The boarding gate agent was funny and handled the craziness with some humor.

The flight crew acknowledge the challenges, kept the passengers informed, and did what they could to ensure everyone on the flight made it – even when security was backed up (seriously…get TSA pre-check).

It wasn’t just in my hometown where the employees did what they could to make the best of a terrible situation. Check out these employees in Las Vegas, handing out cold drinks to folks stuck in the hot sun:

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Was everyone happy? Of course not. It was stressful for everyone involved. Not everyone saw exemplary service from Southwest employees, but overall, they have handled the ongoing problems pretty well.

In the event of this kind of crisis, how would YOUR employees perform? And what can you do to best ensure you’re ready to respond?

  1. Have a plan: The Southwest employees weren’t using sticky notes to process baggage. They had printed tags designed for manual checking. The gate agent had a protocol to process mobile and paper passes without computer access. If you don’t have a Plan B for your business process, you’ll have even more problems.
  2. Hire the right people: Southwest is very explicit about their culture and expectations for their employees – but they also make a pledge to do right by their people. (The “To Our Employees” clause…) By taking time to find the right people to carry out your organization’s work, you increase the likelihood that they will be able to respond to a challenge the way you want them to.
  3. Balance process with humanity: I can’t imagine the level of complexity Southwest faced with this system outage. Between the sheer number of passengers, Homeland Security requirements, and airport regulations, they could have chosen to approach this with a very command-and-control approach. Instead, I saw employees empowered to make decisions. I read examples of employees given the freedom to hand out cold drinks. I saw a flight crew take time to alleviate a passenger’s concern about a connecting flight when we took off late. Are you willing to let go in times of pressure and put the trust in your people to do the right thing?

They say that adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

What character will your people reveal?

[Disclaimer: I’m sure a LOT of people had a horrible travel day today, and many of them are annoyed and frustrated still. My experience may not be the same as others. If you had a bad start to your day, I really hope it got better!]

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Engagement, Teamwork

 

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Slow or fast, we’re all in the same race (lessons from the driver’s seat)

No, this isn’t going to be an introspective look at the fleeting immediacy of life. I mean, that’s a real thing and you should really think deep profound thoughts about it, but I’m not in the mood.

I’m in the mood to talk about driving.

As readers of this blog know, I always wanted to be a stunt car driver. I don’t really remember why that was something I wanted to do. It just looked like a lot of fun, and the drivers were badass.

I’m not a stunt car driver (yet), but I have gotten a chance to live like one for a few hours. It’s called autocross – and if you’ve never gotten to do it, I highly recommend it. It’s so choiceIMG_2998

Basically, autocross is a giant parking lot or other paved area with a course laid out in cones. It might be a hairpin turn, followed by a slalom, followed by a 90-degree turn, etc. You get a series of runs throughout the day, each one timed. If you hit a cone, you get a time penalty. If you miss a “gate” or go off-course, you officially get a DNF (did not finish), but unofficially you still get to drive the rest of the course like a baller.

This was the second such event I’ve had a chance to do and, like a lot of people in my line of work, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities to the workplace.

Someone else may lay out the course, but you choose how you attack it.
In autocross, like a lot of jobs, there are a series of obstacles/tasks you have to tackle. The cool thing is that we get to choose the way to get through them. In autocross, you see people who go as fast as they can, slamming on their brakes to course correct, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Ultimately, though, they learn from their mistakes and do better next time. Some people start very slowly and tentatively, afraid to make mistakes, learning the course. And as their confidence grows, they get faster and better. Your job is the same way. You can go fast and furious, or go slow and cautious. Each approach teaches different lessons, and the “driver” (employee) can either choose to learn from them and improve, or get the lesser result.

Most mistakes are minor. Don’t freak out. Keep going.
If you hit a cone in autocross, you get a 2 second penalty. And people might give you a hard time. If you miss a gate or something, a corner worker makes a big X with their arms and you get a DNF for the run…but you get to keep driving and you learned something. Most work mistakes are similar. Did you send out an email with a minor typo? Okay, you goofed up. Own it and learn from it. Did you forget to staple ALL the packets? Nobody died. Don’t be afraid to make minor mistakes. (And if you’re a leader, realize your people will make them!) The important thing is to learn from it.

Some mistakes ARE a big deal. Recognize when it could happen.
In these types of driving events, you don’t drive all that fast. But cars do sometimes spin out and go flying off the course. If you’re working a corner, you need to be alert and position yourself in a place that will minimize your risk of getting hit. Not all jobs are life and death, but SOME ARE. Inattention can and does get people killed. Whether you’re the person doing the dangerous activity, or the support person watching that activity, be alert and do what you can to ensure safety protocol is followed. We all want to get to the finish line in one piece.

People doing the same thing at the same time have SOMETHING in common. Work with that.
People who do autocross events have all different types of cars and come from a variety of backgrounds. In a generic social setting, it’s doubtful that any of them would hang out. But put them in this situation and suddenly they are best friends, trading driving tips and encouraging each other to improve each run. Your coworkers may not be people you’d choose to socialize with. In fact, people are socializing with coworkers less and less these days. And it may be impacting our work experience. So while you don’t have to be a best friend or anything, it’s okay to loosen up and talk like people now and then.

Have a good time.
You’re driving a car through a crazy course. OF COURSE YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE FUN. Granted, work isn’t going to be a super fun autocross event every day. But hopefully parts of it are. And if it isn’t, try to find ways to make it a good time. You’re there for too many hours in your life.

Whatever you do – in your “real” life or your “work” life – it’s important to remember that while we all have different approaches, we are all still just trying to finish the race.

Start strong, stay strong, and finish strong by always remembering why you’re doing it in the first place.
– Ralph Marston

 
 

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