Positive Thoughts and Destiny

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”
Mahatma Gandhi

I have seen this quote attributed to others, but prefer this variation attributed to Gandhi. This came to mind for me on a recent business trip as I was interacting with a group of very talented staff on topics where I had little experience or knowledge. Being one of the most senior staff in the meeting (by age as well as title), I found that during some of the discussions when I offered my input everyone hung on my words — or so it seemed to me when I reflected back on the meeting that evening. Perceived “power” gained by the authority of your position can be a frightening thing.

On most occasions I am a very positive person. For me, this is the type of person who sees the glass not just as half full but filled to the brim and spilling over. Learning about new tools and concepts excites me and it shows. I love nothing more than a lively debate on alternative approaches to solving problems. With this in mind and being a more senior leader in the team, I had to remind myself to temper my initial reactions because what I might think is a lively debate may get interpreted as the final word or a call to action. Keeping my opinions in check when meeting with staff and curbing my excitement is important to not only my success but also to the success of others on the team. I am fortunate to work with a very talented group of individuals and strive to continue to shine the light on them and let them bask in the glow of their accomplishments. While they may not come up with the same solutions to problems or approaches that I would take, they most often are very innovative and able to reach a conclusion within the same time boundary.

This business trip was a short one, but filled two days with an interesting agenda. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about our User Experience team across the company. Others I attended with probably got less from the meeting than I did since they are much more aware of the work of this team. Travelling home and discussing what we had each gotten from the meeting, I found that while a lot of the topics on the agenda were new to me my companions were already well-informed and had contributed to the meeting more than they had gained.  This was a good reminder that sometimes when I attend meetings, it is probably more important to be a supportive contributor than a learning participant.

When discussing the meeting with my companions, I was also reminded again that the  impression we leave on others and the way that others perceive us can be colored by the weight of our title. This is at times a burden, but giving others credit and letting them grow can be it’s own reward.  We are also a reflection of how others perceive us and it is difficult at times to look in the mirror and see ourselves through their eyes.  The ability to do this self-reflection can be a key to our continued professional growth and I would like to think that I am still able to learn a lesson or two.

With all this said, I’ll pack away what I learned on this trip and carry it along with me the next time I travel for business.  Learning is light and doesn’t need to be rolled up to not wrinkle when I pack my travel bags in the future.

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Leaving A Lasting Impression

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. Neil Postman

I’ve always loved this quote by Neil Postman, but also apply it to those we impact by our leadership. I recently received a Linked-In request from someone who had reported to me years ago. He commented that he would always remember the guidance I had given him early in his career and how he has thought of me many times when faced with a difficult personnel challenge. Today he has his doctorate, has written and published several technical books, and is the founder and CEO of a publicly held company.   We could only hope that all of our “children” would be so successful with their lives.

I’m sharing this with you not to brag, but to encourage you to think about the impact you have as a leader each and every day on those around you. Your actions speak so much more loudly than your words.  For example, when giving praise, do you try to always catch people doing something good and thank them for it? And if you do how do you thank them? If you just say “good job,” how are they to know what specifically you thought was good so that they can be sure to do it again next time? Or do you instead say, “good  job with your executive report, it was exactly the right level of detail that I needed, it was also to the point.  I especially appreciated the executive summary up front with the action items spelled out.” Now that is something that they can remember and do again next time.

Something else I learned along the way was to be careful not to give what I call “warm prickly’s.” These are the “yeah but” phrases, you know, we have all heard them, been the recipient of them and, yes, admit it, given them to our staff. They sound something like, “you did a great job with your presentation to senior staff yesterday, but in the future you might want to speak up more loudly….” Or something like that, you get the picture. It’s the big BUT in there that gets you every time. As soon as you say the big BUT the warmth turns into just a prickly feeling. If you must do the BUT save it for tomorrow and give just the warm fuzzy for today. Let your staff bask in the glow of a job well done and save the constructive criticism, no matter how well-intentioned, for another time. I promise you will get better results long-term and have happier more motivated staff.

Now for the really bad thing that I just know we have all done. Even I have fallen prey to this and no matter how excellent a leader you are I’m sure you can remember a time when you have also done it. For graphic effect I call this “the shit sandwich.” Yes, I did put the “s” word in there because let’s face it that is what it is. When you do this it goes something like, “ your  executive report was very well written, the graphics were weak, I really liked the layout of the slides and the level of detail.” If your boss said this to you what would you take away? I’ll bet it would go something like, “oh my gosh I need to polish up my graphic work, I’m so lame, I can’t believe I didn’t do a better job.” Yup, that’s what happens, the shit smells no matter how appetizing the bread is that it sits between.

So before you give praise make sure you phrase it to keep the glow going. Keep the BUT and the shit out. You can save this for a later time as a coaching conversation for do different next times and keep the did wells separated by at least a day.

Every encounter is an opportunity to shape the future. Now that’s an awesome responsibility and I just know you are all up to the challenge.

National Women’s History Month

A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water. – Eleanor Roosevelt.

In honor of national women’s history month, I am going to use this week to reflect and thank the women who have positively impacted my life.  For me, this has to start with family. I’ll begin with my mother, Helen Durr Alexander. It is difficult to document the impact a mother has on a girl’s life and my mother was no exception. From her I learned to persevere in the face of hardship and adversity, to strive to always do better, to assume the best intentions, and to know that I can make a valuable contribution where ever I choose to focus.  Next would have to be my daughter, Mary Amstutz Reiter.  A daughter is a mother’s greatest joy and accomplishment.  In her, I see reflected all of my best qualities and many she has gained on her own. She has taught me to have no fear of the unknown, to travel light and roll your clothes so they don’t wrinkle when you pack, and to explore the world (vicariously) every time she sends a message with a photo to guess “where in the world is Mary?”   And last, but definitely not least, would be my sister, Dolores (Dee) Alexander Cramer.  It is from Dee that I have learned it is never too late to follow your dream, make-up isn’t necessary when you have a beautiful heart, and being strong doesn’t mean that you have to be hard.

Moving away from family, there have been many other women who have inspired, supported, and mentored me over the years.  From each of these wonderful ladies I have learned many life lessons. They have been there with me as friends as I made the journey to recover my health. They have been there during times of personal and professional crisis. They continue to be here today taking my hand as we face the challenges of navigating life. The list of these ladies is so long that it would take more space than I can allocate for a readable blog.  However, I have listed below some of the things that I have learned from them along the way. These are in no particular order just the most memorable.

  • There is no such thing as work life balance, you just do the best you can every day and hope that the scales don’t tip over and fall on you.
  • Litigation is always the last resort, most issues can be peacefully negotiated in good faith – can you believe it? A lawyer whose first option is not to sue.
  • You can live with a mother-in-law under your roof and still retain your sanity.
  • Every day is a new day, you just need to take it one hour at a time.
  • It’s okay to take a nap in your office at lunch, just close the door so they can’t hear you snore.
  • Life is a journey, so don’t go so fast that you can’t enjoy the trip.
  • Being a friend means you listen to the same stories over again and still laugh at the punch line.
  • Homemade chicken soup is good for the stomach and the soul.
  • Mistakes happen, but as long as we work together to resolve them and don’t assess blame, it will all work out better in the end.
  • If you think you have all the answers, then you haven’t asked the right questions.
  • Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
  • Sit down, shut up, and let someone else lead the conversation.
  • It’s okay to be a butt as long as you don’t do it twice in a row and you always remember to apologize afterwards and mean it.
  • Having a voice is not the same as having a vote, the first just makes you shout louder, the second actually puts your words into action.
  • You can learn something from anyone, even if it’s that you don’t want to be like them.

Moving in to the future, I continue to have high expectations both of myself and others. I draw inspiration from the women around me and from women who are doing something to make the world a better place. Some have called me the “Queen of The World,” perhaps because I am such a know it all. But I have decided that I would rather take a page from Peggielene Bartels’ book and be King Doris, because this would give me the power to take action.  I take pride in being a professional woman and admire women like King Peggy http://kingpeggy.com/ and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy http://sharmeenobaidfilms.com/ who are making a difference for women in the world http://www.savingfacefilm.com/ .

For more information on National Women’s History Month visit : http://www.nwhp.org/whm/index.php

Working With A Feeler

As a manager, I think that it is important that we all have a bit of Feeler in us. I say this because we need to value our interactions with our staff and peers and think of the impact that our decisions and actions will have on them. When it comes to working with a pure Feeler, I’ve found that decisions come first from an emotional basis. Instead of facts based decision making a Feeler will often first ask themselves: Do I like this? Will others like this? How do I feel about this?  When I think about individuals whom I have worked with over the years the person who comes to mind as a pure Feeler was in a management position. She was extremely well liked by her staff and peers. She was the first to remember and acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, new babies, your new puppy or kitty, you get the picture.

I too respected and liked this person. However, when it came to decision making or anything that required analytical thinking, she was a continual source of frustration. These were just not her strengths.   But when a decision required understanding how the staff would feel, she was spot on!

When she needed to put someone on a performance plan or lay someone off, she would be in tears. She felt so much empathy for the individual impacted that she almost could not bring herself to take action. While no manager likes to do either of these, they are a part of the job and the ability to do them in a professional manner is a required skill.

I have the utmost respect for everyone who is a Feeler. They have a strong link to and empathy for the feelings of others and make great friends. There is no one better to make you feel important or acknowledged. They will always remember your birthday, but probably forget to pick up the cake for the party. If you walk into their office you will certainly see lots of pictures of their family on their desk, pictures of their dogs, their friends, their friends dogs, even the neighbor’s cat might be enshrined in their picture hall of fame.

I could go on and on about the Feeler, but the bottom line is they love everyone and would gladly give you their pants. If you are a Feeler, I’d appreciate having you for a friend, but don’t really want to have you on a project team where you need to gather any statistics or get a lot accomplished in a short time frame. But even with that said, if the project is H. R. related and we really need to be able to understand the view of the staff you will be my first pick, but don’t forget my birthday cake and be sure to bring a spare pair of pants.