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“I love me” – a lesson for leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to our story….


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

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

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

Here endeth the lesson.

 

 

 
 

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More than a conference – WorkHuman 2017

I know what you’re thinking: Ugh. ANOTHER ‘come to this conference because it’s so freaking great’ post. 

Well…yeah, it kind of is.

But it’s more than that! It’s a confession of sorts.

See, I usually end up going to conferences because either I’m speaking and they asked me to be there by paying my way, or because I know a bunch of cool people who are going to the conference and I really, really want to see them. I seldom go to a conference simply because it looks “interesting.”

WorkHuman was a little different.

I’ve been going to this conference since the very first one (you know…3 years ago). I had seen teasers about it and knew it was going to have some great speakers, including Shawn Achor, Nilofer Merchant, Ariana Huffington, and Adam Grant. I had seen Adam Grant speak in Denver and I just loved his book, so I thought, “Gee, what a cool looking conference. Oh well, no chance to go, I’ll just watch from afar.”

As fate would have it, I had a chance to attend because I knew people. (See? NETWORKING PAYS OFF. Go do it.) I got to see some friends I knew, but more importantly, I got to experience a conference that was unlike any other. The format was unique. The setting was far more intimate than most conferences. And more swanky. (Note to conference planners: you’ll never go wrong with choosing swanky.) And it felt more like a good conversation among friends because it wasn’t frenetic. Rather than piling on the concurrent sessions, WorkHuman had a keynote, then a few breakouts, and then another keynote, and a few more breakouts, etc. What resulted was a shared experience that allowed attendees to discuss the speakers, pay attention to the content, and not worry that they were missing something else in a session down the hall. I loved it.
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I got a chance to go back to the second one and write about it while I was there. This time, the conference was bigger with more sessions (but still swanky. Seriously…go for swank.). The venue was slightly less intimate, but the speakers were again top notch, and while there were more sessions, the conference let you sample several ideas with 15 minute power sessions, collaborative conversation spaces, and fascinating topics. And did I mention Michael J. Fox spoke? No? Well, he did. And it was fantastic.  (I also got called out to meet Globoforce CEO Eric Mosley because of something I tweeted during his session. Smart guy. Super nice. Good chat.)

And I get to go back this year – once again to write about the conference, but even better…I get to speak. YES. I am one of the 15 minute power sessions you can choose to avoid so you can see the other people talk about cool things! I’m incredibly honored and excited to be part of this conference. I love the concept. I love the theme. I love the swanky locales. (Clearly.)

But most importantly, I love the people. And I’m an introvert. So for me to say that after spending 3 days at a conference with so many people, that’s really saying something.

I got to meet some fabulous human beings at WorkHuman. I met John Baldino (who will be a fellow speaker this year) at the pool the day before the conference started. Of course, I had no idea that’s who he was (but the lack of hair probably should have been a clue), so I just talked to him like he was some random friendly guy at the pool. Thankfully, I didn’t say anything too embarrassing (I think), but he has seen me in a swimsuit, so I feel like that makes us family. I saw a bunch of people I don’t get to see nearly enough in real life (Tim Sackett, Kris Dunn, Kristen Harcourt, Robin Schooling, and so many more). I met the mind behind WorkHuman Robot. And because of the conference, I started following many of the speakers on Twitter…and they actually interact with you. Like people! (Amy Cuddy and Adam Grant are especially nice on Twitter. You guys are the best!) So I guess what I’m saying is…even though I went to that first WorkHuman thinking it was just another conference, I walked away with a new appreciation for how a conference that focuses on old topics a new way can really change the way you look at things.

So join us there and say a quick “hi.” Need help convincing your leadership it’s a good idea? Here’s a resource. In fact, since money runs the world, if you register and use the promo code WH17INF-MFA and you’ll save $200 on the registration fee!

WorkHuman helps you CONNECT – to your purpose, to your work, to other people, to new ideas. It’s fun. It’s fresh. It’s a good time.

Hope to see you there!

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We love you, WorkHuman Robot.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2017 in culture, Personal Development

 

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Help is not a four-letter word

The more I see articles about how busy we all are or stressed we are or upset we are, and how it’s become some sort of weird badge of honor, the more I’m convinced Americans (because I live and work here) have a core problem.

We don’t know how to ask for help.

We like to think we are a resilient bunch, forged by the wilderness, every person for him/herself. We don’t need the support of others – we’re independent, dammit! After all, we left Europe because we wanted to do things OUR way. We fought the British because they wouldn’t recognize our rights to representation, so screw them! We’ll declare ourselves sovereign.Then we fought, scratched and hornswaggled (that’s a fancy way of saying tricked or lied) our way to the West Coast. There’s that “can do” attitude!

You hear it whenever people proclaim with pride they are “self-made.” You sense it when people keep it quiet that they’ve relied on public assistance or the kindness of strangers. And you see it when confused kids don’t raise their hands in school to ask a question.

It’s very bizarre to me, because while we ARE a nation of independent go-getters with a can-do attitude who like to pretend they can do everything themselves; we are also a nation of incredibly community-minded folks who band together to help those in need. Don’t believe me? Check out GoFundMe or CaringBridge and marvel at the capacity of humans to want to help others. But that makes us feel better because we’re OFFERING help, not really ASKING for it. I mean, look at how many of those sites are set up by someone other than the person who needs the help.

When you look around our society right now, it’s clear there are those who need help. It might be because of the floods in Baton Rouge (just because it stopped raining doesn’t mean their need is gone); maybe recent events have shaken them and they don’t know how to talk about it; maybe their water heater went out and they just can’t afford a replacement; maybe they deal with violence in their own home; maybe they suffer from depressionhelp

Take a look at the people you work next to every day. Do you know what they are dealing with? Would you know how to help them if they asked? Would they even ask? Now take a look at yourself. Chances are, you’re dealing with something. It could be as serious a cancer scare. Or it could be as simple as feeling overwhelmed by projects. Would YOU ask a coworker for help?

There are so many reasons we refuse to ask – ego, fear of losing credibility at work, cultural concerns about appearing weak, worried about putting others in an uncomfortable situation, honest belief that we can “handle it.” While these all feel valid in the moment, the reality is that none of them will kill you. It might make you and others feel awkward for a couple minutes, but that will pass.

If you work with people you think need to ask for help but don’t seem to be willing to do it, try one of the following techniques:

  • Ask for help first: I know, right?! So flipping obvious. And yet we don’t do it. This is especially powerful for leaders because it makes you vulnerable and proves to the team that asking for help is TOTALLY OKAY. In fact, it’s encouraged.
  • Shut up and listen: Your coworkers might be asking for help without saying the actual words. Maybe their complaints about being tired or stressed have increased. Maybe they’ve dropped some hints about deadlines. Pay attention to changes in how they talk and act.
  • Don’t make it about you: We LOVE to share stories about our own problems. We do it for (mostly) altruistic reasons; we’re trying to show “we’ve been there.” Guess what – they don’t care. Unless they point blank ask you if you’ve been in the same situation, don’t start talking about how tough it was when you had a hangnail, so you TOTALLY get why open heart surgery would be scary.
  • Specifically offer to help: Some people just aren’t going to ask for help. They think it’s somehow rude. Offer to help a very specific step in the process. “I can print out those reports and deliver them to the project team.” “I’ll go to this meeting and that will give you time to catch up on emails.” “How about I bring your family some dinner this Thursday so you can run to the hospital and see your grandfather?” This keeps the person from getting overwhelmed and keeps them from feeling like they’re putting you out because YOU offered.
  • Respect their wishes: Demonstrate your willingness to help through action, not words. If someone approaches you, give them your attention. If someone looks upset, just stay by them. If they say they want to be alone or don’t want to talk about it, tell them it’s okay…but you’re just down the hall if they need you. Everyone processes things differently – give them room to do that. But…
  • Don’t believe them when they say “I’m fine,” and they obviously aren’t: People in the midst of crisis may be in denial. If you see someone who is really struggling (disheveled appearance, changes in behavior), reach out. Take them to lunch. Let them know they are not alone…and they don’t have to be.

You can be independent, feisty, sassy, brilliant, powerful, successful…and still ask for help. You can be confused, frustrated, out of your depth, upset, angry, exasperated…and still OFFER help. That’s the beauty of being a human being. We are a walking contradiction. We are complicated. We are a mess. We are amazing.

We can all ask for help. We can all offer help.

You just have to do it.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and then allows you to learn something new. ~ Barack Obama

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2016 in Personal Development, Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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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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Free Your Mind (with apologies to En Vogue)

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

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

envogueSome of my key takeaways from today:

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

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

Hint: Yes. Yes, they are.

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

 

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Learning a new way to work

I’ve always been drawn to challenges. I build, I don’t maintain. I like to push, rock the boat, innovate, break down silos. I’ve worked at organizations that were built that way. I’ve also worked for organizations that weren’t built that way…but needed a kick in the butt anyway.

If I don’t have interesting work to do, I get bored. And when work is interesting, I like to keep working until it’s done. I’m online all the time, I check email all the time, and I never seem to be able to turn off my brain.

Sound familiar?

While it can be a very fun way to work, it’s also a pretty tiring way to work, and leads to high levels of burnout. Those who worked through the 2008 economic downturn know that while headcount was slashed, work expectations never changed. And as the economy recovered a bit, those job were never replaced – businesses figured they could continue working “lean,” thereby helping the bottom line.

But at what cost?

Engagement is still extremely low and don’t appear to be going up any time soon.. And according the Bersin by Deloitte: “Employees are overwhelmed with technology, applications, and a constant flood of information.” Employees are overwhelmed and it shows. While the rise of the gig economy has been overstated, there are more people who are looking to scale back, take a break, or start a new, low-stress career.

We can do better.workhuman

This is why I’m in Orlando, FL this week, attending the WorkHuman conference sponsored by Globoforce. WorkHuman is based on the premise that there has to be a balance between work and life, between happiness and career, and that businesses can create an environment that encourage a healthier approach to work. It’s about helping employees set boundaries and avoid the stress of trying to be “on” all the time.

The conference has sessions on mindfulness, optimism, recognition and will feature CHROs sharing how they are trying to create the “human workplace.”

This is so not how I’ve approached work in the past. I’ve been the one in the back row snorting at the idea of “mindfulness” and “happiness” and other such topics. But resilience is something that resonates with me – and we are starting to learn more about how things like optimism and positivity (mixed with realism) help build resilience.

So I’m here to learn. To hear the research behind these topics and take what makes sense back to my workplace and try to be part of the solution and not the problem.

Not all of what is shared at this conference will resonate with me. I reserve the right to snort from time to time. (After all, I’m the skeptic.) But last year’s conference was pretty darn good and I got a lot out of it. I’m excited to be here.

You’ll see a lot of me on social media the next few days. In fact, there are a lot of great people here to learn new things and share what they’re learning with folks who can’t be here. Track the conference on Twitter under #WorkHuman.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2016 in Personal Development, Skillz

 

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