Hitting The Books

hit books

Over the years we all have a few life changing moments. One of mine came to me around the tenth year of quartering yet another frozen turkey. It was right after I finally came to the realization that they were never going to promote me to Head Meat Cutter no matter how many times our department came in first in the Zone in sales nor how many times I smiled as I sawed up those turkeys. But I can say that I never would have had the courage to go to college if my family had not pushed me to make that first uncomfortable move.  It started with just a few evening classes at the local technical school. I thought I would turn my love for math and managing by the numbers into a lucrative skill. Little did I know at the start that this would lead to a lifelong love for learning and a fascination with computers.

Two years flew by while attending night classes and working full-time still cutting up those turkeys, but now I was focused on funding my education. On graduation day I wore that cap and gown with pride as I receive my freshly minted Associates Degree in Accounting. I was ready to conquer the professional world! Much to my dismay the jobs for me with my new degree were few and far between and none of them could compare with the wages I was making as a part on the Union.  It would have been even more disappointing if I hadn’t taken that last computer class and discovered that I had a knack for programming – in COBOL – but hey it was still programming. I took exceptional pride in the fact that when I loaded my deck of punched cards into the hopper my code ran first time every time with no errors. It was with the memory of this that I decided to continue to invest in my education by attending a local college and getting a degree that would open doors for me to travel beyond the frozen turkey days. So again with my family’s support, I now start school during the day and switched to nights and week-ends for the turkey travails. Other than a full course load and many stops at school for lab after work, those days included doing the nightly clean-up of the Meat Room. I think I hold the record for the fastest time breaking down the slicer and the band saw and hosing the whole room down with disinfectant and yup you guessed it putting it all back together again just to quarter another frozen turkey. Did I mention that in between times I did my homework standing up in the meat room shifting from one foot to the next trying to stay warm in that 40° room.  Thanks to many cups of black coffee I never fell asleep at the wheel on the drive home.

The next two years went by in a blur, maybe some of that was from the steam in the Meat Room. Now I was really armed and ready to launch into a professional career. So long turkeys! I bought a suit and the requisite nylons and heels and started the interview rounds. After a few weeks I was faced with one of the biggest decisions of my life. Should I take the job at the CPA firm doing taxes? Or should I take the job at the business software startup where I would answer the phones and listen to customers complain? To this day my husband still can’t believe that I chose the latter. I remember him saying,” you hate to hear people complain, you hate the phone, and you really hate sitting all day, now tell me why you took that job again?” The answer was easy. I would have my very own bright and shiny new computer and I could play with software all day long.  Except for the complaints, the phone, and the sitting, it was a job made in heaven. Lucky for me and the customers, my management talent (or simply maturity since I was the oldest employee in the office) and my penchant for breaking the software made me the perfect candidate to start the companies first ever Quality Assurance Department. I’d love to say that was my brain child, but in reality it was due to a critical contract with IBM (the real IBM this time) that required having a QA group that led to my move into management.

It was also around this time that I decided that to really get ahead in the professional world I needed to have some initials after my name. During my senior year at college I had sat for but not passed all parts of the CPA exam. Never to be one to leave something unfinished, I kept on studying and passed all four parts on the second and third tries. One night, fueled I am sure my much black coffee, I applied for and was accepted into an Executive MBA program. It was back to night school I went for more black coffee and rubbing elbows with “C” level wanna be executives.  After a few years I now had CPA and MBA after my name. It doesn’t get any better than that!

So what might you ask did I learn from all of this hard work and study? Let me sum that up for you. It pays to have a loving and supportive family. It’s one thing to get an education but quite another to apply it well in the work environment. And lastly, doing it at light speed like I did, you have to be a little crazy and that comes from drinking too much black coffee!

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Leading By Example

 

 

 

 

 

 

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer

Life would be so easy if we never had to deal with any difficult situations. How many of us can say that we never have had a challenge in our work lives? If you can respond in the positive to this question, then you are either oblivious to the world around you or living in Nirvana.  Over the years I have had many of these opportunities to flex my leadership muscles.  I put it this way because until you have faced a daunting challenge I don’t think you can really judge your strength as a leader. Most of us in leadership positions do a pretty good job when things go as planned. But how we react and interact during difficult times is what really tempers our leadership skills.

I had an opportunity recently to observe one of our senior leaders reacting to a difficult situation. I believe what this leader said was they knew they were not treating some individuals very nicely, but that was just the way it was going to be due to the stress of a situation that was taking their focus away from the day-to-day to concentrate on resolving more pressing issues.  I am usually never at a loss for words, but I was struck speechless when I heard that this leader thought it was okay to treat people poorly due to stress at work. Now the moment has passed and I am still looking for the right way to bring the topic back up so that I can do a bit of “upward mentoring.”

This incident got me thinking about how I behave when I am under a lot of stress. As you may know from my earlier posts, I am a self-avowed Tasmanian Devil when the doer in me kicks in, but how do I behave when there are challenges here at work?  I love the quote by Schweitzer and think that it speaks volumes. If I keep this in mind when I feel the urge to “Tas out,” it restrains me. The most impact I can have on a daily basis is to set a good example for those I work with especially when under stress.  As long as I remember the examples that I set by my actions become the behavior of those around me it keeps my inner Tas under control. I have only to envision an office full of Tasmanian Devils whirling around and the lowering of productivity with missed deadlines that results to restrain my doer Devil mode.

Now how do I approach the topic of setting a good example with the leader I mentioned above?  Fortunately I am not the one being treated badly, but if I were it would almost make this crucial conversation easier.  I know I need to pick the time and my approach carefully so that my comments will be heard and received. This is not the type of conversation I like to have over lunch, nor is it effective at the end of another difficult day. Perhaps I’ll take the donut approach and invite them for a Starbucks walk across the street?  I find that walking improves the atmosphere for talking. Maybe I’ll share a “story” about one of my Tas experiences and how I handled it effectively? Or maybe I’ll just wimp out and see if they read this post?  Whatever I choose to do I need to do it this week because the more time that passes the more difficult this conversation will be.

As you can see, a lot of thought and reflection has been going on this week.  When I observe less than stellar leadership behavior, it does help me to become a better leader. It reinforces for me how it is much more difficult to be an effective leader under pressure. These times are the true test of leadership skills. All I have to do is see the reaction of others to this leader to know how I do not want to behave.

We are all a work in progress. Leadership in my mind is first setting a good example for those around us and second being a servant leader. Wish me luck with my crucial conversation. I welcome your thoughts on how I can approach this effectively.

Developing Character Muscles

“We develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.” Stephen R. Covey

What do Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox have in common? They both share the struggles associated with having Parkinson’s disease.

When I read an article this week about Michael J. Fox and the fact that April is Parkinson’s awareness month, I was reminded of the quote by Stephen Covey.  I’ve read the book, Lucky Man, by Fox and I am inspired by his continued positive attitude. Where most of us would use this disease as a reason to hide away or give up entirely, he has not let this disease stop him and has continued to be productive. Since he wrote Lucky Man, Fox has gone on to fight his battle with Parkinson’s and has even written two other books, Always Look Up: The Adventures Of An Incurable Optimist and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Future….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciBMG3WOhIc&feature=relmfu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_x79kYAks4&feature=related

I have not read either of these books, but intend to put them on my priority reading list.

While Fox may have many of his muscles taxed and weakened by his disease, he certainly has strengthened and built up his “character muscles.”  Most of us fortunately will not face a devastating illness like Parkinson’s, but when we do experience the setbacks and challenges of day-to-day life, I think it is important to put them into perspective and always maintain a positive attitude.  As I said in a prior blog, I am a glass overflowing type of person, but even I need the occasional reminder and inspiration from folks like Michael J. Fox.

Just as the steel blade is tempered and made stronger by the heat of the fire, all of us should come out a bit stronger after facing the fires of day-to-day life. Having a positive attitude not only makes things easier to deal with, but it also makes us easier to work with – well at least I hope it makes the doer in me easier to work with, I’ll let you be the judge.

So when you face the next challenge in your personal life or the next Fire Drill at work, take a deep breath and think of Ali and Fox and put your challenges into perspective. At the end of the day, remember how you handle yourself during these moments is not only what leaves a lasting impression, but just the fact that you have had these experiences is making you stronger.

As I think of all the people I know who suffer from Parkinson’s, I am humbled by their continued drive and determination.

Being A Doer

 Last week I said I should title this “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” but decided that this would not do justice to the strengths of the Doer.   I did, however, want to pay homage to the nick name (Taz) that my daughter gave me many years ago.  After yet another stress filled morning getting three teenagers off to school, did I say they were all girls? My daughter started calling me Taz. This was probably due to my frenzied flinging of school books, lunch bags, cans of hair spray, and various articles of unmentionable clothing that were strewn about the house. All of this as I had to fight for the bathroom to get ready for work and eat my breakfast on the run. You can easily see how I earned my name and of course why my pants were often on backwards.

 I would like to say that I am different in my work life than I am at home, but when the pressure of work projects looms out comes the Taz in me.   As you know from my earlier blog, we Doer’s get a lot done, but sometimes at the expense of dead bodies left in our wake. 

When brought to our attention that we may have caused a bit of an issue as we voraciously chewed through a problem, we Doer’s are usually confused as to why anyone is upset because after all we did get the job done. And very quickly at that! So all Doer’s be forewarned while you may accomplish a lot you need to keep the battlefield clear of bodies.

ImageNow in case you think that I am a real “piece of work,” please remember that I am not a Doer all of the time just when I am under pressure. When I am working along as I am today just getting things done at a normal pace, I am really a thinker. I had plenty of time to get ready for work this morning (the girls are all grown and gone) and my pants have that knife-edge crease in them. I am operating in my best thinker mode pondering all the different detailed ways to write this blog and get my points across. As you can tell, I do love pictures and still identify with the Taz.

ImageI’d like to also add that when the conditions are very favorable I can switch into my Feeler mode.  This is when I walk around the office and chat with folks and find out how they are doing, what their children are up to, and maybe even invite someone to walk across the street for a Starbuck’s. More on this next week as I share a bit about the Feelers among us. Perhaps I should dub them more politically correctly and call them the “Connectors.”