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Fight the good fight

Let’s face it – no matter what our aspirations, most of us leaders will never ascend beyond middle management. That’s because unless we are a CEO of a company without a board (or we are ALSO the board chair), we all answer to somebody.

This perpetual state of “rock, meet hard place” means that leaders are constantly being asked to implement ideas, policies, projects, and other shenanigans they absolutely do not agree with. And even more, they know their employees will not agree with them, either.

The challenge is always knowing when to fight and when to support. In general, the rule of thumb has always been “fight up, complain across, support down.” Which…mostly works. It’s important that leaders know how to pick their battles and when to gain and spend political capital.

On the other hand…

There are times when your team really needs to see that you’re fighting for them. They need to believe you, their leader, has their back when they aren’t around to see it. They need to see that you are human, that you recognize when a policy from the higher ups seems contrary to the organization’s stated values, and that you are willing to stick your neck out for something that’s important.

Leaders, you won’t win on these. Most of the time the decision has already been made and you’re basically just fighting a whirlwind. You’ll be told you have your marching orders and that it’s happening with or without you, so it might has well be with you.

How you decide to react to that statement is up to you.

What I can tell you is that your team notices when you fight for them and with them. They know most of these issues are a losing battle. They know you’re putting your neck on the line. And because of that, they will be in that battle with you.

That means you have to be smart. That means you fight when it matters, not when you’re feeling petty. That means you explain why you’re fighting – so make sure the reason is worthy.

Being a leader means finding a balance in that gray area of supporting the organization’s mission and purpose and railing against anything that seems to be against the mission and purpose. Being a leader means knowing you will fight many times, and you will lose.

But being a leader also means showing your employees that with power comes responsibility, and being a manager sometimes means pushing back on authority now and then when the issue is important. It shows your employee you support them…and you expect them to also push back when the issue is important. Because informed dissent breeds innovation, and permission to dissent respectfully builds trust.

Yes, leaders. You will lose the occasional battle. But you just might win the war.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in General Rant about Leading

 

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We are capable of so much _________________

 

[Note to readers: This isn’t a “leadership” post, per se. I mean, leaders should read it from the perspective of leading others, but really, it’s a post about people.]


We’ve been rewatching From the Earth to the Moon in spurts. My husband and I are unabashed space race nerds – we watch all the documentaries, we love The Right Stuff, and I swear, I would have tried to be an astronaut if it were for the fact that the mere idea of weightlessness makes me want to barf. (Seriously…I can’t even read in a car. It’s a real pain.)

When I watch these shows, I’m struck by how freaking AMAZING it is that human beings did this. I mean…we sent people TO THE MOON. And they came back! In 1969! That’s just crazy. What’s even more amazing is all the steps that had to go right for us to be able to get to that moment with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Someone had to think through all the little steps it would take to launch a rocket safely, then put a person in it, then put two people in it, then dock in space, then design a LEM, then design the space suits, etc. It’s mind-blowing…and nevermind that they did this in only 8 years. EIGHT!

The moment humans walked on the surface of the moon was truly a uniting moment for our species. Footage from around the world showed it didn’t matter what country you were from, or what you believed in – people recognized the sheer magnitude of what we had been able to accomplish. Not only did it validate all that we had worked for up to that moment; it gave us hope for the potential of all that we could achieve.superhero-kids-day-e1431462427802

I bring this up because we need to be reminded of the potential of who we are. We are living in a time of unimaginable connectedness. On the one hand, it gives us the opportunity to connect with and learn from people all over the world. On the other hand, it means people can spew forth any thought that comes into their heads and put it on the internet.  So as you can see, we end up having to take the good with the bad. Unfortunately, the bad is so. damn. loud.

So let’s take this opportunity to remember – we don’t inherently suck as a species. We create so many things for the benefit of others. We can come together as a society and revel in our potential. (I mean, are you watching the Olympics? The refugee team – inspiring!) For every terrible story of someone taking advantage of people, of violence, of terror, there are more stories of heroism, of charity, of bravery…of love.

I am a realist. I know that what makes us capable of so much progress is the same thing that makes us capable of so much horror. I know that sometimes we start down a path with the best of intentions, and somewhere along that path we lose our way. But not always. Sometimes we stumble upon a discovery that can change the world. Sometimes we create something simple but joyous. And sometimes we just keep on keepin’ on.

As you go about your life in the coming weeks, help those around you find the good potential inherent in what we do. Encourage people to seek out stories of triumph, not anger. Keep your mind open to the possible.

We are capable of so much __________.

How do you want to complete that sentence?

This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’

~ Patton Oswalt

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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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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We’re failing our people

The Society for Human Resource Management – or SHRM – recently released some very interesting surveys around employee engagement and talent acquisition. Both reports have some very interesting information, so I highly suggest you download and give them a read.

As a leader and an HR professional, there were a few stats that stood out for me:

  • 88% of US employees reported overall satisfaction with their current jobs
  • 45% of US employees reported they were likely or very likely to look for a job outside their current organization within the next 12 months
  • 32% is the average turnover rate in the first 6 months for new employees
  • 26% of jobs are filled from internal candidates

Now, I’ve been known to find patterns and connections that are tenuous at best (don’t call me a conspiracy theorist…it’s really more of a hobby). But when I see these stats together, I’m inclined to make some leaps of logic, such as:

  • People are “satisfied” but would happily jump ship because they think there’s something better out there (read: “it’s all about the benjamins”)
  • 3/4 of our jobs have to be filled externally because we didn’t plan ahead
  • We’re doing a pretty crappy job of selecting the right people and/or onboarding them properly

In short, we seem to be failing our people as leaders. the-office-quotes-12-main

Yes – I’m pointing the finger at leaders right now. We’re the ones making the decisions. We create comp structures that incent employees to leave within two years (or is it three years) or lose earning power. We make lazy hiring decisions – either waiting too long to make a decision and thus lose the best candidate, or we settle for someone who isn’t really qualified because we just need a warm body.

And why are we making those lazy hiring decisions? Because we haven’t invested in employee development for a long time. The recession of 2007/2008 (and beyond) helped us justify cutting costs for developing our people – even though we know it would improve their performance, commitment and our bench strength. Oh, and it would also improve our managers, who impact our employees’ day-to-day lives. But hey…we really needed to save that $300,000 at the time. Right?

And so, we are playing catch up. Our workforce is facing a retirement wave. Yes, it was delayed by a down economy as people stayed in the workforce longer, but now people are leaving to enjoy their hard-earned retirement. So we have to hire external people to fill the leadership or more senior roles we should have been developing internally. And yes – a healthy mix of internal to external hires is preferable. But do you think it’s 25% to 75%? Really? Because our current employees see this happening and decide that there is no future for them at their current company…so they start looking.

We can make it better.

We can look at our employees’ development and decide to invest in them.

We can build Total Rewards programs that actually reward people. AND keep up with market increases. You don’t want to build base salary? Fine. Offer incentives/bonuses/whatever you want to call them. Build in some flexibility, too.

We can have conversations with our employees about their career goals, and then try to help them reach those goals. Will they always be at the current company? No. But that employee will remember you did that for them and share that story. And now you have an employer brand to be proud of.

You’ve all seen this old chestnut:

CFO asks CEO: What happens if we spend money training our people and then they leave?

CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?

Now replace “training” with “developing” or “investing in” or “caring about” our people. And realize that the CEO in this quote doesn’t need to worry.

The reality is, they won’t stay. They’ll find an organization that values them enough to invest in their future. And they’ll leave angry and bitter rather than inspired and grateful. And they won’t be our problem any more. And the cycle will repeat.

This is your call to action. This is your chance as a leader to use your voice and your influence to change the system. Show the business you mean business. Show your people you care.

Turn failure into success.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2016 in General Rant about Leading

 

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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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Doing the “correct” thing isn’t always right

Recently I read a story about a restaurant manager who received complaints about a mother and her autistic child. Policy would have dictated that he move the duo to another part of the restaurant, away from the other patrons who were being disturbed. But after one question from the mother, he decided not to. He told them to have an awesome day. He high fived the child. He went back to work.

In his words: Sometimes doing the right thing does not make everyone happy; just the people who need it the most.

Good for you, Tony Posnanski. You rock. You recognized the needs of this mother who had been through this before but just wanted a normal experience with her child. That’s what we call managerial courage – you didn’t hide behind a policy or the bottom line. You assessed the situation and made a judgement call.

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This is what leadership looks like. It looks like a person who is aware of policy and procedures. Who listens to the needs of ALL customers. Who assesses things on a case-by-case basis, makes an “executive” decision and stands by it.

We need more leaders like that.

Policies and procedures have their place, but they’re no match for the human touch. People need to reach out to people and engage with them on a one-to-one basis. As my friend Steve Browne often says, you have to meet people where they are. And sometimes that means breaking policy and doing something that just makes sense.

Lord forbid we do something that makes sense.

We all have something in our handbook that HAS to be there because we think we can’t trust employees and managers to make the right decision in the moment. Sometimes it’s dress code. Sometimes it’s bereavement leave. Imagine a world where we let it slide that an employee is in a pair of jeans because there’s 2 feet of snow out but they still busted their butt to be in the office that day. Or we let an employee take bereavement leave for a dear family friend who was like a parent, but gosh darn it, that relationship isn’t listed as covered in the policy.

So as you go about your day-to-day at work, don’t be so quick to say “no,” or “we aren’t allowed to do that.” Think about the person you’re dealing with – the PERSON – and respond in kind. After all, policies and procedures keep us sane, keep us legal, keep us on the right side of compliance.

But our empathy and adaptability makes us human.

 


Think we need more humanity in the workplace? Join me at the WorkHuman 2016 Conference in Orlando, May 9-11, 2016. To register, go to  and use promo code WH16MF300 for $300 off.  

 

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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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