Sunday, December 16, 2018

Human Resources in the 21st Century?

When I started working as a teenager in the mid-70's, we still used:

  • landline phones
  • typewriters
  • carbon copies in those typewriters
Not to mention that this job was in a bank, where everyone came when they needed cash out of their checking accounts - no ATM's yet, either. And we were only open 10am to 5pm, Monday through Friday.

My how times have changed.

My observations is that the majority of changes in the workplace have come about due to advances in technology. Though I show my age here, I distinctly remember those early computer science courses on mainframe computers, my first bulky cell phone in 1999, and how I bought a copier that doubled as my computer printer at Costco for my home office. Compare all those old-school, pre-2000 changes with a video call with my laptop and bluetooth earbuds that I had last week with clients in Bosnia and Thailand. It's all I can do to keep up, but it's pretty cool all the same.

That being said, I am surprised at how much has not really changed when it comes to the people part of the workplace. Interoffice politics rage on, interpersonal conflicts continue unabated, and most clients I talk to are at a loss as to who to talk to about it when they are impacted. And while some companies have robust policies and company handbooks and HR departments pursuing 110% compliance, many other companies outsource much of their HR and "hot potato" the rest. 

I have come across three interesting links this week that speak to HR, or the lack thereof. Perhaps one of them scratch where you itch?

Here's Who You Can Turn to When You Can't Count on HR (or Your Boss). I liked this article because it captures the quandary many of my clients experience, though it's a bit more negative than what I see. It's not always that they cannot count on their boss, but that their boss is as stumped as they are as to how to turn things around. Fast forward to the "external experts" section of this article for a description of what I do....

How to Hire the Right Person (NYTimes Hiring Guide). I was really impressed by this resource. If, like some companies, the whole recruiting / interviewing / onboarding game is divided up among several of you, this might be truly helpful. Check it.

Why your HR Officer is Leaving. Keep in mind that this comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education and speaks directly to HR in the world of academia. But when I read it to an executive leader for a company I have worked with, she agreed immediately with all of the points that were made. Again, I think that we have to think long and hard about what we need HR to do and make it a priority. I think this article states it well:
I am concerned, but not all that surprised, by this new level of frustration and anxiety. While I happen to think it is an exciting time to work in a role that can influence cultural transformation, I appreciate that the work feels harder than ever. But it is important work. And while the #MeToo movement, the demands for pay transparency, and the discoveries of previously suppressed misconduct can be embarrassing for organizations and challenging to manage, it feels like — as a nation — we are finally engaged in important conversations about our most important values.

Let me know what HR looks like in your workplace ~ I'm super interested! Send me emails at kelly.soifer@ksleadershipdevelop.me. As always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Pursuit of Happiness?

While the bulk of my work is focused on leadership development, I want to start with saying that you cannot lead anyone until you lead yourself. And that requires ongoing, transformative work in self-awareness.
one of the major premises of leadership development for me is that

So today’s post is in that spirit. I was recently struck by this article from Fast Company, This is what you’re getting wrong about your pursuit of happiness, though I want to say at the outset that a topic as huge and life-encompassing as the meaning of the pursuit of happiness cannot be solved in one little article from Fast Company! But I was especially intrigued by the “Ten Worlds” described in this article. They proved to be thought-provoking for me personally.

For example, I was especially drawn to the worlds of Realization and Learning. Regarding Realization it says,
The world of self-improvement. Here, you’re obsessed with self-examination and personal growth, but it can lead to self-absorption. The delusion is that you think you need to grow to be happy.
Indeed, I am constantly looking for new ways to be productive, or measure my exercise, or read a new book, or learn how to eat better, or… You get the picture. To lean into Strengths Finder language, I think this sort of drive is a product of my Activator, Maximizer, and Achiever, all of which are in my Top 10. And yes, I agree, at times I can fall down the rabbit hole of self-absorption, wanting to make myself my #1 project and lose sight of the bigger, more important things around me.

Regarding Learning, it says,
The world of mastery. In this world, you feel a relentless drive to learn and accomplish something that creates value and meaning. The delusion comes when you think happiness comes only through accomplishment.
Again, circling back to Strengths Finder, I see #5 Input, #6 Arranger, #7 Learner in flying colors here. I LOVE learning new things related to whatever project I am working on, and no amount of information is uninteresting to me as I dive in. But yet again, I can get lost in the swirl of discovery and think I am actually something special as I tune in to the topic.

Where the article gets tricky for me is how the Ten Worlds authors assert that nine of the ways we pursue happiness are delusions and only one world, that of "enlightenment," can provide true happiness. Admittedly, I haven't read the book, and am taking the word of the author of this article, where he says,
While Lickerman and ElDifrawi call the worlds “delusions,” they can make you happy. “For example, freeing yourself from pain will make you happy,” says Lickerman. “The delusions come when you expect the happiness they make to be permanent. Having perspective is helpful. In the 10th world, happiness is permanent.
I could not agree more -- nothing I pursue will give me permanent happiness. To believe otherwise is certainly a delusion. I am not the master of my domain, and so many circumstances outside of my control greatly impact my sense of happiness. That encapsulates the hard-knock lessons of my life, thank you very much.

Yet the Ten Worlds authors' claim that their view of enlightenment provides permanent happiness. REALLY? Furthermore, they assert that this enlightenment is not mystical or religious. Hmm. That's where I diverge from them. I too agree that we need to lift our heads and be in awe of the beauty of creation and, as they describe it, "the sublime order of things."

But for me, the awe immediately takes me in a mystical and religious direction. Beauty and creation cause me to wonder about their design and purpose, and quickly plunge me into an existential exploration into the meaning of my life and that of those around me.

What about you? What makes you happy? I deeply appreciate this statement by the authors on their Ten Worlds website:
The world in which we spend most of our time will determine how happy we're able to be. What determines which world we inhabit at any given time? Our beliefs. But not just any beliefs—specifically, our beliefs about what we need to be happy.
If you can, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the Ten Worlds described in the Fast Company article. Perhaps these questions can stir the pot for you:

  • What are your beliefs about what you need to be happy?
  • How did you develop these beliefs?
  • Are they working for you? In other words, do you find yourself fulfilled and satisfied on a relatively regular basis? Why or why not?
I sense that the Ten Worlds authors and I are both headed in the same direction. I value the hard work of self-awareness, and they encourage a pursuit of the enlightened self. However, I would say that the work of self-awareness is not only internal and self-driven; it also needs a community around you. As Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist, says in Harvard Business Review,
When it comes to internal and external self-awareness, it’s tempting to value one over the other. But leaders must actively work on both seeing themselves clearly and getting feedback to understand how others see them. The highly self-aware people we interviewed were actively focused on balancing the scale.
As I say to my clients, the pursuit of self-awareness is life-long. I believe the same about the pursuit of happiness... though I have discovered as I've gotten older that my sense of happiness is far more subtle and deeply rooted in knowing my purpose and identity, regardless of my circumstances.

Feel free to send me your own thoughts at kelly.soifer@ksleadershipdevelop.me. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Quality over Quantity, Dec 2018

Like you I am sure, I have my hands full as year-end approaches. But in the midst of many to-do lists, I still manage to squeeze in some podcasts, articles, and a book or two. Here are my top recommendations for this month that will hopefully serve as reminders of what it takes to pursue depth and integrity over time. Chip away at them - they will be worth it.

6 Fundamental Skills Every Leader Should PracticeIronic that a written article about developing leadership should say, "Our research and experience have shown us that the best way to develop proficiency in leadership is not just through reading books and going to training courses, but even more through real experience and continual practice." Guess I'll stop reading your article now and get to work!

Nonetheless, as always, HBR comes through with this one and this proves to be a good article for mentoring and developing leaders. Their six fundamental skills listed here are fail-safe. Set aside six months to look at each skill one-by-one with your rising leaders, assigning experiments to test-drive and develop the skills.

Favorite insight: "they found that workers were able to improve their own performance by 20% after spending 15 minutes at the end of each day writing reflections on what they did well, what they did wrong, and their lessons learned." We live in a non-stop world that does not encourage slowing down or reflection. You would do well to cultivate this practice in yourself and others.

The Urgency of Slowing Down. I just listened to this today on a long walk, though it was a rebroadcast from June 2015. Use this podcast as a way to mitigate against the stressful "have-to's" barking at you, and step back to be still and listen. 

The ‘Holy Grail’ of Class Discussion. As I get ready to teach a class again this next semester, I found this article a much-needed reminder. I especially loved this:
But in those discussions, are your students actually talking to one another? Or does it work the way it often works in my class: The instructor asks a question, and students direct all of their answers right back to the instructor. Getting students to interact with one another, instead of responding individually to the instructor, might be the holy grail of small-class discussion.
I think the same thing could be said of weekly staff meetings, dontcha think? I'm not really kidding. Regardless of where you are gathering people for discussion, I found some questions in this article that focused my preparation in helpful ways. Tell me what YOU think!

How to be More Productive. I would say my top two most talked-about topics with clients are 1) How do I deal with my annoying co-worker and 2) How can I get more organized? With that second woe in mind, I give you this article. Though it has been said in multiple ways, it really is true that the important things need to get done more than the urgent things. This article gives some practical ways to approach that tension.

Favorite quotes. This month's nuggets come from Albert Einstein, and need no explanation. Happy December!



“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend fifty-five minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” 

He also reportedly said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Favorites: October 2018


This is a various and sundry list of stuff I have liked and used lately, from the sublime to the mundane. I receive nothing from endorsing these things (though I welcome it!). Here goes:

Favorite new book. I have jumped on the BrenĂ© Brown train and pre-ordered her latest book, Dare to Lead. I am halfway through Part One and like it so far. It is providing some new insights on management and leadership. I will add that I am a tiny bit skeptical at the same time -- the book is getting heavy marketing on Instagram and Linkedin and the book's language borders on cheerleading at times... Nevertheless, if you want to wade through some of those somewhat minor things, I am finding that the content is already very solid.

Favorite podcast. It feels like I have a new favorite podcast every month and this month is no exception, though actually I have two for this month. The first one is called The Sleeping at Last podcast and it is produced by a guy named Ryan O'Neal (different from the actor) who was part of a group called Sleeping at Last. Anyway, he is producing songs built around the nine types on the Enneagram and it Completely. Blows. My. Mind. Just listen to it if you are interested in or seeking to know more about the Enneagram. Second, and this one is just for fun, is one called Last Seen by WBUR in Boston. It follows the famous Isabella Stewart Museum art heist from 1991 and tries to solve the crime. It's a fun diversion.

Favorite snack. Granted, I don't know if this is a snack or a treat, but Trader Joe's Scandinavian Swimmers are a favorite impulse buy of mine. I've always said Swedish Fish are my favorite candy, but frankly I'm a little torn... these are a teeny bit chewier, softer and quite yummy. Yes please!

Favorite show. Like podcasts, I have two faves at the moment. The latest season of Great British Baking Show on Netflix has won me over. I was pretty determined to not like the new one because I was bitter that they're getting a little more commercial and that the original hosts, along with Mary Berry were leaving, But I like all the changes and they've kept all the best parts in my opinion. I wasn't sure about the hosts at first but they have grown on me. Second favorite show right now is Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain. Sadly, I only watched the show very occasionally when Anthony Bourdain was alive, but now that he is gone, I am finding it a very unique and powerful show. It isn't really so much about food as it is about anthropology and sociology and he does an amazing job capturing the spirit and heart of every country he visits. I really like it, and he is quite a complex and intriguing human being. I have so many questions...

Favorite form of transportation. If you have known me for a while, you already know that I sold my car in 2010 and now get around by my scooter or my bike, along with an occasional bus or Uber ride. I bought my latest bike in December and I'm still completely in love with it. It is the Electra Loft 7-speed and it has got this beautiful subtle color they call Green Tea. If you are at all in the market for a bike, I cannot recommend this one enough. It is comfortable, fun and so enjoyable. I always feel like I am on vacation when I ride it.

Favorite playlist. I could name several, but my current go-to's on Pandora are Instrumental Folk (music to work by) and Avett Brothers (cooking, cleaning, mindless email).

Favorite advice column. The Sweet Spot in the New York Times. I am listing this column as a favorite because I am still mourning the loss of one of my past favorite podcasts called Dear Sugars. They just finished for good at the end of the summer and I'm still in mourning about it. But this advice column is written by the same people who hosted it, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, and while it does not capture the energy of the podcast, it's a decent substitute.

Speed Round:

  • Favorite lunch spot. Whole Foods Salad Bar - always a party in my mouth! And it supports all of my high maintenance food intolerances.
  • Favorite coffee spot. Sorry, I have to go local - Handlebar Coffee is HEADS above the rest.
  • Favorite place to rely on while traveling for work. Feeling slightly guilty admitting this, but it's Starbucks. I just KNOW I can get a reliable coconut milk latte there, and the Sous Vide Egg Bites are FABULOUS and give me the protein boost I usually need when I'm scrambling between airport gates.
  • Favorite cat. Obviously. Still Oliver!
Please share your favorites, big and small. If I get enough of them I'll run a fan favorites post. Fill me in!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

What Do You Really Want?

We all have goals. Big ones, small ones. One of my small goals is to read at least one book per month. In the past few months I've read Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, Educated by Tara Westover, The Unseen Real by Stephen Seamands, Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown, The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, and Lessons in Leadership by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

September's book was... wait for it... The Jesuit Guide to (Almost Everything) by James Martin. I know, I know, not a super sexy title. But I appreciate Father Martin's Twitter feed a lot, and when this book popped up as a $1.99 Kindle deal, I thought, "Why not?" Though you may have no interest whatsoever in this book, I do encourage you to take a few moments and consider one section I read as I was hurrying on September 29 to finish it by the end of the month (sort of lame, I know).

In the thirteenth chapter, which focuses on discerning purpose in life, be it in work, job, career, vocation and life, these two questions halted my hurried reading:

  1. What should I do?
  2. Who should I be?
The rest of the chapter explores these questions in careful, non-anxious details. These are not pushy "shoulds" here. I loved it.

The author points out that we need to probably discern between our wants and our desires. Huh? Then he quotes a writer named Margaret Silf, who states profoundly, "There are deep desires and there are shallow wants."

The entire chapter of Fr. Martin's book -- heck, the whole thing -- does a much better job than I can here in shaping this conversation, but I was especially struck by some questions given that came, once again, from Margaret Silf. Take a deep breath, turn away from distractions, and consider these:

Is there something you've always wanted to do but never managed?

What are your unfinished dreams?

If you had your life over again, what would you change?

If you only had a few months to live, how would you use the time?

If a significant sum of money came your way, how would you spend it? 

If you were granted three wishes, what would they be?

Is there anyone, or anything, for whom you would literally give your life?

Take time ponder one or more of these questions. The responses you make to yourself -- provided they are honest answers you feel you ought to give -- will be pointers to where your deepest desires are rooted.

Look closely, take time to reflect on what you find. There may be patterns in your desiring that help you more fully understand who you are.


I have decided to reflect on these quarterly (yes, I've put them in my calendar already!). Perhaps you might consider doing the same? 

While much of my work with clients revolves around managing this, leading that, confronting this, strategizing that, I am grateful that I also often end up talking about bigger and deeper things like calling and purpose with people as well, whether they are fresh college graduates or executives preparing for retirement. Can I encourage you to set aside some time soon to reflect on these questions? I did just that last weekend and I am so glad I did. Let me know how it goes.





Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mindsets, Management and Meetings

Three recent articles have gotten my attention this month and I want to share them with you. Try to carve out a few minutes to check out each one... WARNING: the titles don't capture the full value and I encourage you to give each one a chance. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised and maybe even learn something.

Are You Living in a Scarcity Mindset? I first learned of this concept from Stephen Covey's classic (which was P.S. a game-changer for me), 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His description says it all: People with the scarcity mentality "see life as only having so much, as though there was only one pie out there. And if someone were only to get one piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life." The blog post I'm recommending here does a great job punching up the concept with some pertinent, real-life examples that really make sense in 2018. It also includes some thought-provoking questions for reflection. Don't skip it. (And for fun, watch the clip it includes from The Office. Can't lose!)

Teaching Students to Manage Their Time (applies to grown-ups too!) WOW this one surprised me. Check this opening paragraph: "Many adults don’t know how to manage their time adequately. The endless self-help books about time management, procrastination and work-life balance all point to challenges with organizing a daily routine that includes the assorted obligations of work and relationships." Yup! Guilty as charged. Take a few minutes to read this and see how the author breaks down time management in the most basic way possible and helps anyone think through how to get everything done. Bookmark this one.

Five Ways to Improve Your 1:1 Meetings. One of the reasons I enjoy my work is that no two days are the same, and I get to meet and work with a wide variety of people. However, one constant, regardless of whether I'm talking to people in Chicago, DC, Boise or Bangkok, is that the bulk of my appointments are 1:1. While I think I do best 1:1 rather than in group meetings, I am regularly reminded that I cannot hide behind boring agendas or a blabbermouth co-worker when it's just me and another person looking at each other. How do I keep these meetings fresh? Put your brain on the rinse cycle and see if this article gives some good reminders and tactics.

As we marked the autumnal equinox recently, I will pass along these deep thoughts:

I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and 
have it all to myself, than be
crowded on a velvet cushion.

Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Strengths Finder Resource Page - All the Cheats!

Hey friends, I have met many, if not most, of my consulting clients through the Strengths Finder presentations that I give. As I keep coaching people individually, they invariably ask, "Remind me again where I find that podcast??" etc. So here is a one-stop shop with all the various resources that I have come to rely on. I may need to keep updating this as new stuff comes out. Here goes!

Clifton Strengths Finder main site This is home base, where you can eventually find almost everything you are looking for. I like going here mostly to track how many millions of people have taken Strengths Finder. However, I do not find this website always that easy to navigate. So here are a few of the key pages that I go to time and again:

  • Strengths Finders assessments in other languages I currently have clients not only all over the United States, but also in Bosnia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Here is the link to help access assessments in the languages of over 20 countries.
  • Buy all 34 of your Strengths, in order Once you understand the foundational aspects of Strengths Finder, I have found that it is most helpful to actually know where all 34 of the strengths fall for you and your profile. Here's the link for accessing all of your Strengths in order. First of all log into your account, then you go to the store and buy all 34 strengths. I really, really recommend that people not only know their Top Five, but actually their Top 10, which can really be active in your work if you are intentional about it. It is also super helpful to know your bottom five, which I would define not as weaknesses, but as your blind spots. It's always good to know where you definitely need to partner with someone else.
  • Strengths Finder 2.0 book In my last two large presentations, people tried to order Strengths Finder 2.0 books from Amazon, which is what I have recommended for the last few years. Unfortunately two different people purchased the books, only to receive them without the code for taking the online assessments. In other words, some shady people are selling their used books online fraudulently. The only real way to avoid that is to purchase your books directly from Gallup.
  • Strengths Finder Theme Insight Cards If I have coached with you for a while and you are now supervising others using Strengths Finder, I have found these cards helpful in individualized coaching. They are not that expensive (AKA cheap!) and concisely provide a lot of info in one place.


Additionally, here are a few other go-to links that are packed with resources:

  • "Called to Coach" Facebook group for Strengths Finder "enthusiasts" Admittedly, this page is for the full-on nerds who want to understand as much of Strengths Finder as possible. I guess they have Input and/or Learner in their top five :-).......[Strengths Finder humor]
  • Lead Through Strengths Resources This is a new page I am just getting connected with but I am especially impressed with the short but super helpful podcasts that are produced here.
  • Theme Thursdays Webcasts & Podcasts I am ending this post with my very favorite page of all. This is where I think everyone learns the most about Strengths Finder and their profile once they have learned the basocs. I really recommend Seasons 1 & 2 of the podcast or the webcast as you get started, and then lean into Season 3 if you are involved in leadership, and the current Season 4 is great for understanding how to maximize your strengths in your work life and personal life. Sometimes the two hosts are a little bit too chipper for my taste, but ultimately, the content is super helpful.
In August and September I've given presentations in Washington DC, Pasadena and Ventura CA, coached five managers in Sarajevo, and given three online presentations that were dispersed throughout the West. I am kicking myself that I didn't start tracking at the start how many people I've met nor how many presentations I've given, but I am surprised (and thankful) to say it never gets old. After one of the online presentations last week, an instructor for the class emailed me and said, "I loved seeing the students happy and empowered last night." I was so happy to hear that.

Let me know if you need a refresher or an introduction, at kelly.soifer@ksleadershipdevelop.me

FAQ

Hearty Bread for the Whole Journey? aka, "What's with the vague subtitle?"

If you have sat through (endured? enjoyed?) one of my Strengths Finder presentations, you know that I often refer back to my life as an eter...