RSS

Tag Archives: leadership

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

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Fasten your seatbelts: 2018 may be a bumpy ride (a NON-prediction prediction post)

I typically avoid writing predictive blog posts. What the hell do I know about the future? I mean, I watch a lot of Black Mirror and all, so clearly I’m aware that our technology is leading us to a dystopian landscape that will suck away our very souls, but leadership and HR trends? My guess is those will be the same as they’ve always been, only faster and more intense.

The thing is…I’m seeing some interesting behavior online and in real life (IRL for you cool kids out there) and it’s enough of a shift from what I’ve noticed in the past to make me want to write about it. (To be clear, it may be that I’m just more aware of this behavior, but whatever, it’s my blog. Hush, you.)

In the past, I think most people just read an article or post or tweet and were pretty passive about it. If they liked it, they may click the little button, or share a smiley face. If they didn’t like it, they moved on. Nowadays, people are pushing back and challenging more. I’m not talking about those out there who challenge EVERYTHING. Those people have been and always will be there. I’m talking more about those on the sidelines – the people who keep up on current trends and articles and follow the “influencers” but don’t necessarily post or tweet much. THESE people are speaking up. What they may have let slide in the past is no longer something they’re willing to ignore. 

This is where the #metoo movement came from. This is where we are being pushed to discuss inclusion and racism like never before. This is where we are humbled by our preconceptions. This is where we learn.

Frankly, I think it’s awesome – particularly in the leadership/HR world. We build cliques and comfort zones. We help promote each other, and are excellent resources for each other. These are the good things! But we also sometimes fail to push back on each other. We think, “that’s just so-and-so” and let a questionable statement stand unchallenged for fear of damaging a relationship. These are the bad things.

My friend Laurie Ruettimann wrote a fantastic post about healthy debate (go read it, really). We need to embrace that. We who choose to write or post or speak must be okay with people challenging us. We must also be willing to listen when we’re told a statement we made may be offensive. We must ALSO be willing to stand by some of our more controversial statements if we believe in them – which means taking the time to expand upon them or maybe state them differently to add clarity.

I screw up ALL THE TIME. I’m a fast typer, so I tweet at the speed of sarcasm. I’m flippant. I’m sassy. I don’t suffer fools. While I think this makes me charming, it also can get me in a lot of trouble. Unless I’m willing to back up and listen to someone who pushes back, I won’t know how to respond. Crazy person? Probably won’t spend much time on it. Person who’s trying to explain to me why my words hurt them? I owe it to them to try and understand why. I won’t necessarily agree (seldom do), but if someone is willing to share their pain with me, it seems like I should listen. If you want to know what this looks like, Sarah Silverman is your role model. I am not at that level – may never be. #lifegoals

If you share your thoughts with the universe, be prepared for the universe to “share” back. If you write controversial things specifically to spark discussion – which, by the way, is totally cool and a useful way to get people talking! – be willing to engage in that healthy debate.

By the way, this isn’t just for the online community. There are quiet folks in your organizations who typically keep their heads down who are starting to speak up. Their voices may be quiet. They may be asking for confidentiality. But they ARE speaking up. For those of you in HR, have you noticed an uptick in investigations and complaints lately? Visibility breeds awareness breeds action. I’m okay with this. It’s time that the vocal among us make room for those who haven’t felt like they were allowed to speak, or felt like they didn’t have something to say.

 

So here’s my prediction: If you’re not prepared to hear from those who typically haven’t spoken up until now…2018 is gonna be rough.

 

 

 
 

Tags: , , , , , ,

You’re never too big to care about people

Almost every day, my delightful Mumsie Poo starts her morning by going to her local neighborhood Starbucks for a cup of coffee (grande in a venti cup – the woman likes her cream), chats with the baristas and some of the customers, and then continues on with the day’s activities. The agenda for these activities are usually sent to me in a daily text; I assume that’s so I can find her when she’s kidnapped for ransom money due to her secret royal status. Or because deep down she’s an arch nemesis and her texts are tiny daily monologues about how she will take over the world. Still figuring that one out.

Actual cake baked by Mumsie Poo for her Starbucks friends.

Anyway…Mumsie Poo celebrated her birthday on December 13th. In her daily text the next day, she told me that the Starbucks folks all chipped in to buy her a new coffee tumbler and paid for a month’s worth of free coffee for her. She was so tickled by that. She even baked them a cake to say thank you.

The thing is, this Starbucks has ALWAYS done great things for my mom. She’s a retired lady on a very fixed income, so going to buy a daily cup of coffee is a bit of an indulgence. She does it to get out of the house and to say hi to the friends she’s made at that shop. And they repay her – they “accidentally” forget to charge her for her coffee one day. Or they recharge her Starbucks card “just ’cause.” They know her by name and always ask her how her day is going. In return, Mumsie Poo bakes them birthday cakes, brings them Christmas cards, and gets too involved in the stories of their personal lives. (You can take the woman out of Chicago….)

They have built a wonderful little community at that Starbucks. On the times I’ve gone with Mumsie Poo, they all tell me how much they love my mom and what a great baker she is. They are incredibly nice to everyone who walks in, but are especially nice to their regulars. They really do go above and beyond to make Mumsie Poo feel welcome and comfortable. And they give her a hard time when she deserves it, so they get extra points for that.

My point in sharing all this is not to brag about my mom’s local Starbucks. It’s to point out that even though Starbucks has almost 14,000 locations IN THE US ALONE, they are able to create an individual connection with a customer. It’s not about profits, and it isn’t about marketing (although the word of mouth doesn’t hurt). It’s because they genuinely like what they’re doing and like their customers. And they understand they are making a difference in one person’s day.

There’s a lesson in all this for businesses and leaders alike.

Connect on a human level. Be generous. Care.

That’s all you really need to do to make a difference, no matter how big you are.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 19, 2017 in Authenticity

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

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. 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Five Years

Five years ago today, I started this blog.

First of all…seriously?! Five freakin’ years?! Wow. I’m getting old.

Anyhoo….

This blog was created because the universe decided that Jennifer McClure and I should meet under bizarre work circumstances. Because of that meeting, Jennifer began to insist that I should really write a blog post about topics we discussed. Or that I should tweet a witty observation I made. (The witty is my descriptor, not hers.)

In short, this blog is all Jennifer’s fault.

five

It’s been an interesting 5 years. We’ve seen a lot of things happen in the world of work and the world of life. I’ve had opportunities opened because of this blog. I’ve had an outlet to post random thoughts and observations because of this blog. Because of this blog, I find myself far more engaged in what is going on in leadership and HR across all industries, which helps satisfy my natural curiosity.

I’m grateful to the online writing community for welcoming me into their ranks, even when they patently disagree with what I have to say. I’m grateful to all of you who take the time to read my posts (when I finally get around to writing them). It’s nice to know someone out there thinks something I wrote is interesting or helpful.

Most of all, I am actually grateful to Jennifer for insisting I start sharing my voice. While I call this blog her fault, it’s only because it was her belief in me that convinced me I should put myself out there.

So, thanks, Jennifer. I never would have even considered this if if hadn’t been for you (my number one balcony person).

Now go apologize to the world for what you’ve done. 🙂

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Everyone needs a Jerry

Early in my HR career, I worked for a large Fortune 200 organization that sold pay TV.  We were geographically dispersed – call centers, field technicians, and a big ol’ headquarters filling two rather large office buildings.

The culture at this place was…I’ll say challenging. It didn’t win a lot of fans, that’s for sure. But the company knew exactly who it was and didn’t try to pretend to be something else, which I appreciated. And many days, most people really liked their job – awesome people to work with, cool projects, access to leadership, super fast career development.

From a Christmas video the company shot. OF COURSE you needed Jerry singing!

There were some days, though…I mean, seriously. Walking into the building was physically difficult. For a lot of people. You’d see their footsteps slowing down, the smile disappearing from their face, their shoulders slumping. It was going to be a grind.

Then you walked through the door and at the front desk was Jerry. And you couldn’t help but smile.

Jerry was one of the main front desk security guards whose job it was to greet visitors, hand out security passes, and generally make sure the folks walking into the building were supposed to be there. But Jerry always took it a step further. He would stand at the desk saying, “Good mornin’. good mornin’, good mornin'” to every person walking in. He’d ask you about your weekend. He’d tell you to have an “awesome, awesome” day. (Always awesome. Twice.)

Jerry was the best.

He saw his job as more than “just a” security guard. He saw himself as an ambassador of the organization. He loved his job and he wanted to make sure you loved it, too. And even if you didn’t, he made sure you had at least one smile that day. Visitors to the building loved him. Regular visitors would worry if he wasn’t at the front desk because he was on break (“Did something happen to Jerry?”). Everyone loved Jerry. Even our sometimes-not-the-most-personable CEO. Jerry could make ANYONE smile.

The CEO recognized Jerry’s worth to the organization because he honored him with a very prestigious award at an all hands meeting, broadcast to all our facilities. This award was typically given to people who had made the company a lot of money, or created a new product, or some other business-y reason. Jerry got it for being himself and helping others.

Everyone needs a Jerry – whether it’s in your organization or in your life. A Jerry helps you set the right tone for your day, or helps bring you out of a gloom on your way home. A Jerry is the face of your company who makes people feel welcomed and valued. A Jerry is this janitor, giving high fives to students as they walk in the door.

Jerry was definitely one of my favorite things about working at that organization. On my last day, when I handed him my badge, he gave a huge hug and said good luck. And a few years later, when I went back to the building to meet with some former co-workers…he recognized me and gave me another hug and said it was great to see me. Who wouldn’t want a Jerry????

As far as I know, Jerry is still being Jerry. I didn’t write this because something sad happened to him or anything. I was just reminded of him when I saw the story about the janitor high fiving students, and I thought, “How cool would that be to get that walking into work every day? Oh wait…Jerry did that.” And thus I wrote about him.

I hope you have a Jerry. And, more importantly, I hope you can be someone’s Jerry.

Because a Jerry is awesome, awesome.

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on November 2, 2017 in Authenticity, culture, Engagement

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Not a joiner? Join the club*

*Author’s Note: See what I did there? 

There’s been a lot written about the challenges of being an introvert in a workplace that tends to value the behaviors of extroverts (see: Susan Cain). From open floor plan workspaces to “collaborative” work styles (e.g., we all sit in a room and stare at the same document until magic somehow occurs), to a belief that you must speak up in meetings or you’re not adding value – the preferred work style of introverts seems contrary to how corporate America seems to want to operate.

Despite this clash of styles, introverts are doing (mostly) okay. Exhausted and fussy at times, but mostly okay. We’ve been figuring out how to adapt to, and influence, our work environments to find a way to not only exist but thrive. We have also made headway in busting the myth that introverts are anti-social heathens who hate people. (That’s only a few of us.) Most introverts actually like people…but individually, and for short periods of time. Or through social media, because this means we can meter the intensity of our interaction to match our energy. Which is nice. Slowly but surely, we’ve started to change the perception that you have to be “outgoing” to be a good leader.

Then out of the blue…someone asks you to join their “group.”

Maybe it’s a bowling league. Maybe it’s a work committee. Or maybe someone tries to throw you into a generalized reference to a “them” when telling a story.

If you just read that and felt your heartbeat climb and your anxiety increase, chances are you are NOT a joiner.

It’s okay…I’m one of you. (Which really is kind of funny when you think about it, because now we’re a group but we don’t really WANT to be a group, and now we hate ourselves for being part of a group. Ugh.)

I know I started this post talking about introverts, but I want to point out that extroverts can be “anti-join,” too. I think anyone who hates being labeled or put into a box (particularly by others) aren’t really a “joiner.” Because introverts recharge individually, though, maybe they’re more prone to not wanting to join the club. (I have no research to support this, but it seems like research doesn’t change people’s minds anyway, so let’s pretend I told a really emotional story and got you on my side on this one.) (And yes, I’m aware of the irony that I just used research to prove that research won’t change your mind.)

Anyway, back to not wanting to be a joiner.

The problem with not being a joiner at work is that it somehow puts a mark on you. People who don’t want to join the club are often labelled as difficult, or maybe they “aren’t a culture fit,” which is often code for “not like us.”  Unfortunately, that mark can be tough to shake. Most people want so desperately to belong, so it’s hard to understand why someone wouldn’t want to belong in a very public, assimilated way.

And that’s where the challenge lies – never try to tell a non-joiner they HAVE to join. They will become stubborn, angry, and most likely will act directly opposite from what you’re trying to get the group to buy into. (At least that’s what my mom says I do. I think she’s lying out of spite.) They will feel put upon, and more importantly, they will feel even more like an outsider because you have put their otherness on display. And now they will never join you.

This is a damn shame, too, because here’s the thing – non-joiners actually do join things. They just tend to be much more selective and only join things that really speak to them – causes, activities, awesome snacks at club meetings. Don’t think of them as non-joiners. Think of them as the Discerning Joiner.

Discerning Joiners recognize they only have so much time and tolerance for meetings, get togethers, busy work, etc. They focus instead on things that they care about. And when they decide to join that “club,” the Discerning Joiner is a juggernaut. They will devote time, energy, attention, resources – anything they need to do in order to make sure their decision makes a difference for someone.

You WANT Discerning Joiners – you just don’t realize it yet. They tend to be the people who can make a real difference in society. They see something they don’t like and refuse to “join the club.” Instead, they make a conscious decision to evaluate the situation and do something to turn people’s heads and make them uncomfortable. It could be something as simple as sitting in someone else’s “spot” in a meeting to break up the monotony. Or it could be something as public as kneeling. Whatever action they take, though, they take intentionally. Don’t discount the power of that. Harness it. Encourage it. See what you can do to create an environment that allows that to happen positively.

And if you ARE a Discerning Joiner, stay strong. Stay principled. Don’t feel pressured to join the crowd. Join when it makes sense. Feel comfortable in being an individual, too.

USE YOUR POWERS FOR GOOD.

Even if you do it alone.

 

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.
– Charlotte Bronte

 

 
6 Comments

Posted by on October 9, 2017 in Authenticity, Personal Development

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: