Thursday, March 29, 2018

Podcasts Post No. 3: Nurturing Organizational Culture

This episode is a bit of a conundrum: it is posted in a series for church pastors on faith & leadership, but it offers a TREMENDOUS description on how to integrate core values in an organization in a way that fosters empowerment and enthusiasm. I felt like I was sitting in on a C-suite meeting at Jet Blue! I could not take notes fast enough as I listened. If you're looking for ideas as to how to connect your employees to your mission at a deep and memorable level, listen to this.

IF you're not interested in the church implications, begin the podcast at 2:20 minutes, and you can end it around the 30 minute mark. Tune in to Episode 8: Marty St. George on nurturing organizational culture at JetBlue. Tell me what you think!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Work Hacks 3-25-18

Blame it on the combination of Maximizer (always seeking seek to transform something strong into something superb), Input (a craving to know more), and Achiever (They take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive) in my Top Ten for Strengths Finder,
but I read lots of newsletters, articles, and books. Information is nearly always interesting to me. (Then, maybe I'm just a giant nerd...)

In the last couple of weeks I've come across quite a few good resources and want to pass them along to others. Let me know if any of them were of interest or value to you.

Best Productivity Apps for 2018. What better way to start this post?! I don't know if I even understand half of what these apps do, but they all look super cool. If you need some help with email, video editing, to-do lists, project management, writing, or want some new ways to get your new iOS or Android device to do even more, cruise by this link.

Why You Need an Untouchable Day Every Week. Early in this article, this grabbed my attention: "As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out into the world, then your value is diminishing fast." Like me, if you need some ideas on how to get some chunks of time set aside to focus and do some creative work, this was helpful for me.

Do you plog? I won't even explain what this means. Just read it. It convinced me to try it, and I liked it. Go crazy.

The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. I'm a bit of a sucker for TED Talks, but this one is especially good. Two excellent quotes:
"Rigid denial doesn't work. It's unsustainable, for individuals, for families,  for societies... and for our planet. When emotions are pushed aside or ignored, they get stronger."
 "Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life."
This TED talk is an outstanding, genuine, poignant discussion of emotions, stress and the management of it all. 

This is How to Improve Your Interviews. I have two clients right now who are struggling with employee retention. This is a competitive job market right now, and I find that those new to the workforce are easily lured by some of the bright shiny objects that larger firms dangle in front of them. Some of these tips might seem obvious, but they are good reminders. 

How to Beat Decision Fatigue with Better Brain Habits. Yep, you read that right. Maybe you don't realize you're burning out from too many decisions, but this article might help you discern if you are. I find that work piles up incrementally, to the point where I don't realize I'm drowning until I'm halfway under. This comes from Trello, which I use for my project management.

Introvert or Extrovert? There's a Third Option. Before I comment, just bookmark this blog. It is GOLD. She talks about real, important stuff but in a very down-to-earth way.

Here's a solid line from the article:
“knowing your type when it comes to personality is important, because by increasing our awareness of where we stand in terms of introversion and extroversion, we can develop a better sense of our tendencies, manage our weak spots, and play to our strengths.”
I have found that developing my self-awareness really helps me as a leader. Not only does it help me get out of the way when working with others, it also helps me read others more accurately. Check it out.

Closing thoughts...
I spent 27 years of my adult life working daily with teenagers. The stories coming out of Parkland and beyond, have reminded me why I loved working with them so much. One sign is especially staying with me: “Graduations, not funerals!” Regardless of where we fall on various issues, may we all have the patience, fortitude, and grace to listen well to our neighbors, grow in empathy, and look for ways to understand.

Monday, March 19, 2018

What is Leadership?

Leadership: the act of getting people to fall in love with a version of the future they had never even considered or believed possible. 

@SethGodinLive @akimbopodcast

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Podcasts Post No. 2: There's no such thing (as writer's block)

I heard a recommendation for the new Seth Godin podcast titled Akimbo and thought I'd check it out. I'd seen some of his past TED talks and blogs and thought it might be thought-provoking.

As I listened to the first episode, I was definitely NOT taken with it. But I think it's always fair to give something another chance, so I listened to another episode titled, "No such thing (as writer's block)." This one  definitely got my attention.

Before I go any further, I want to warn you: The podcast is incredibly lean: no interviews, no music, few ads. Just Godin talking. And his delivery is a little awkward and slow. I feel like I'm listening to a former student who has a huge brain and sometimes has a hard time getting all that smart stuff out of his mouth in coherent form. But it does allow me to take in what he's saying.

As a former English major and editor and very occasional writer, the title of the podcast drew me in. He says writer's block is a privilege that writers (all creatives, really) claim that is not acceptable. He reminds us that plumbers don't have 'plumber's block,' after all, making his point perfectly! They don't get to say that they don't feel the ability to plunge a toilet or unplug a drain today. In the same way, writers just need to do the work, accept bad writing and imperfection, and keep going. Here's a succinct statement worthy of pinning to your wall:
"The work is doing it when you don't feel like it, doing it when it's not easy."
He goes on to describe the way to keep writing - by showing up every day for work and writing, regardless of whether it's good or bad. It's the discipline that matters. We have to write a bunch of really bad stuff to produce anything good. As the hilarious and winsome writer Anne Lamott says,
"How to write: Butt in chair.  Start each day anywhere.  Let yourself do it badly.  Just take one passage at a time.  Get butt back in chair."
Possibly the best part of Godin's simple advice is that it applies to nearly every effort under the sun. I won't feel like visiting that person in the hospital, but I will go. It's just the right thing to do. I won't feel inspired to exercise when I have 100+ emails still in my inbox and several projects approaching deadlines. But I desperately need to get my heart moving if I want to stay alive.

In a short amount of time, with some repetition, Godin really gets to the heart of the matter rather quickly:
"What writer's block really is, is a series of bad habits and fear, piled one atop another. It's fictional. We don't *have* it;  maybe we may feel it, but it's not who we are. We are not blocked; what we are is afraid." 
So I have tagged this one as a saved podcast, to listen to when I'm stuck, lacking in motivation, or... if I'm really being honest, AFRAID. As I've said to many others in leadership development, 90% of what you need to get done gets accomplished just by showing up. So forget about the excuses, and show up. (ending with a self pep-talk!)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday Thoughts: Mentoring in the 21st Century

I was asked to provide a workshop for a conference on March 5, and I offered to make a presentation
on what mentoring looks like in the 21st century.

I have mentored trainees, staff, and interns for over 30 years, and I think there are some dynamics in our culture today that make mentoring particularly challenging.

Before I share what I think those dynamics are, let's recall the power of mentoring:
The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves. (Steven Spielberg) 
My job as a mentor is not to reproduce a mini-me; rather, my role to help someone discover who they are.
Mentors change lives, but students change mentors’ lives more. (Richie Norton)
I won't deny that a time or three that an intern has caused me to bang my head against the wall. But more often than not, I have been changed, refreshed, challenged, or encouraged by those I have mentored.
What I've found about it is that there are some folks you can talk to until you're blue in the face --they're never going to get it and they're never going to change. But every once in a while, you'll run into someone who is eager to listen, eager to learn, and willing to try new things. Those are the people we need to reach. We have a responsibility as parents, older people, teachers, people in the neighborhood to recognize that. (Tyler Perry)
Amen to that. The biggest job I face as a mentor is connecting with someone who is teachable and hungry to learn. The rest is easy.

Those are the plusses, right? I've found that there are some consistent minuses as well: those I've mentored can tend to time-challenged, and more than a little unorganized. They can be distracted and a bit unprofessional. But I still love 'em!

In 2018, what are some of the unique things we face today?

1. "Millennials don't want to be managed, they like to be led, coached and mentored." (Farshad Asl) I find that fresh college grads are not familiar with (or interested in?) hierarchies. Their worlds have been somewhat flat organizationally. Often they've called teachers by their first names or been friends with their parents. I find they won't respect an elder automatically, that's for sure. They are looking for more of a collaboration and dialogue than pure mentoring. No Mr. Miyagi, "wax on, wax off" business for them!

2. This generation of young adults are used to having their hands held (Hello Helicopter and Snowplow Parenting), so they are often used to things being done out for them. Let's not forget, this is the generation who grew up with the Google and Wikipedia. Or Mom filling out their college apps (yes, I've seen that firsthand). So their problem-solving skills are under-developed, their attention spans are limited, and they may not have developed strong work habits.

3. The entire world revolves around us now. Think of how individualized everything is - iTunes, In n Out, Starbucks, Spotify, Chipotle, Pieology, to name a few). Couple this with #2 above, and for some  young people, their parents and schools made them the center of the universe. So no one warned them that that is not how the world works! So it's not fair to be frustrated that they are self-absorbed.

What's a mentor to do?? I will save that for another post soon! In the meantime, give me your feedback.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Podcasts Post No. 1: You Need Help to Help Her

True Confession: I am addicted to podcasts. I will spare you and not give you the long list of podcasts I regularly listen to, but rest assured, it is my number one form of entertainment. I listen to podcasts when I cook, exercise, travel, clean... you get the picture.

Blame it on my restless mind, blame it on my Strengths Finder #5 talent Input, blame it on my nerdy interest in almost anything, but I never tire of gaining more information.

I'm going to introduce you to one I am especially impressed by called Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel, a Belgian therapist who specializes in assisting couples in relationships. She just started Season Two of her podcast, and it appears she may be taking things in a slightly different direction than Season One, where she gave us ten intense, often intimate episodes of actual couples therapy. Once I got over the novelty of listening in on someone's real therapy, I usually gleaned tremendous insights on how to counsel others. 

This first episode of Season Two is titled, You Need Help to Help Her. It focuses on a couple whose daughter is in profound, ongoing distress. As Esther says at the beginning, couples not only have their intimate relationship to maintain, they also have other relationships to manage, and this episode relates to their relationship as parents.

To describe the content of the podcast would be to give too much away, but I'm writing about it because it gets at the heart of much of what I talk about with clients when we are discussing interpersonal dynamics and conflicts, usually in the workplace. I try to do a lot of listening in order to understand all the different people and stories at play. As Esther said in this episode,
I think systemically. I think about problems in their context... not just what causes them, but what maintains them. How is the relationship system, how is the family organized around the problem?
This comes from a classic approach in therapy known as Bowen Family Systems Therapy that I learned in my one whole counseling class in seminary, Even though I only had that one class in grad school on counseling, it is something I have found profoundly helpful over the years, and I've tried to grow in knowledge and depth of insight as I encounter stress and conflict in groups.

Though this podcast pertains to family struggles, I have certainly found that similar dynamics can be in the workplace, where so many of us spend at least one third of our days! Dr. Katherine Kott describes it this way:
Applying Bowen theory to work systems has the potential to create transformative change as people become aware of hidden emotional processes in the system. Understanding these emotional processes through Bowen theory takes some of the mystery out of workplace behaviors that do not make logical sense. 
If you are experiencing any sort of dysfunction or dysregulation in the workplace, it might be worthwhile to start with Perel's podcast today, and then go from there in terms of understanding how in stress we tend to organize around the one Bowen calls "the identified patient," the one whom the system directs all of their anxiety toward as a way to divert attention from anyone else. It's pretty fascinating stuff!

Though tremendously complex and difficult, I have found it to be so worthwhile when groups invite me to help them work through the knotty dynamics of a system. If you want to learn more about family systems beyond Dr. Perel's podcast, I recommend starting with The Family Crucible by Napier and Whitaker. And if you are in the midst of an ongoing struggle with others at home or at work, take the title of Perel's podcast episode to heart: "You need help to help her (or him)." These things don't just go away. Find the help you need!

Stay tuned for regular updates on podcasts I like... there will be many, of that I am sure.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thursday Thinking 3-8-18

I came across these quotes this week that have really stayed with me:

Oscars 2018
"...with Coco we tried to take a step forward towards a world where non-white children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look, and talk, and live like they do. Representation matters, marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong and I hope that we made a difference and I hope it's just the beginning. Muchas gracias." 
This came from the acceptance speech Lee Unkrich in response to receiving an Oscar for Best Live Animated Feature, for the film Coco. I saw this film when it came out with a cross-section of Anglo and Latino friends, and we wept big soggy tears in the last several minutes, but with smiles on our faces too. I can verify that my friends of Mexican descent whom I sat with that night indeed cherished this rare opportunity to see themselves and their heritage celebrated so beautifully. Like Unkrich, I too hope it's just the beginning.

Advancing Women in Leadership 2018
"If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together."
Apparently an African proverb, this was quoted by Jo Saxton, a self-described "Nigerian Brit" who was a keynote speaker for this conference that I attended this past Monday. Saxton is a truly inspiring leader and a force to be reckoned with. I look forward to hearing more from her.

This quote captures so much of what it means for me to lead. Rather than try to go it alone, I have found it is always better to build a team and a community. I have often found this to be more possible with other women, who tend to want to lead collectively and collaboratively. The conference was a good day of content, networking, and encouragement. Plus I enjoyed leading two breakout sessions on mentoring in the 21st century.

The World's Deepest Problems
"What, after all, are the world's deepest problems? They are what they always have been, the individual's problems--the meaning of life and death, the mastery of self, the quest for value and worth-whileness and freedom within, the transcending of loneliness, the longing for love and a sense of significance, and for peace. Society's problems are deep, but the individual's problems go deeper; Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky, or Shakespeare will show us that, if we hesitate to take it from the Bible."
This comes from J.I. Packer, and landed in my inbox through a daily email called "The Christian Quotation of the Day." I won't deny that they frequently fall flat for me, but occasionally a lovely one appears. I liked this one because I appreciated the way Packer plainly states the big existential questions of life, in a way that caught my attention. And I'm still left pondering his contrast between individual and society's problems: do I agree with him? Not sure.

Representation Matters
“I remember reading, Marian Wright Edelman, and she was actually writing about children, and it hit me, in relation to kids, and for women as a whole, where she says, 'you can’t be what you can’t see.' If you don’t see it, you wonder if there’s something wrong with you, something's presumptuous, something arrogant about you for wanting it in some way. I think women have a complicated relationship with ambition anyway."
Resonant with the first quote by Lee Unkrich, this was quoted by Jo Saxton (I know, the connections between my quotes in this post run amok) during a podcast interview with Jen Hatmaker that I listened to today. I really connected with Saxton's words regarding the contradictory messages that women receive regarding leadership. We are so often asked to be responsible for things, but just as often are deprived of the fruits of those efforts. And if we press forward and still ask for opportunities and recognition, we are often snubbed or shut down. I appreciated the dialogue of this episode and still hope for change...

What are you reading and hearing? 

Saturday, March 3, 2018


If you are in the mood for some edge-of-your-seat, outstanding writing, go directly to this recent article from The New Yorker called The White Darkness: A solitary journey across Antartica by David Grann. Make sure you have time though - it is the essence of long-form journalism, something for which the New Yorker is the gold standard. I read it recently on a flight from Phoenix to Santa Barbara, and prayed I would finish it before we landed because I was so gripped by it and did not want to be delayed in finding out how the story ended. Again, be warned: it is essentially a short book, but oh so worth the time. Online, they have supplemented it with some incredible extras.

I need to reflect a bit on this article because it was so. damn. good. It struck some sort of chord deep inside of me, and I am not sure I can say why. I do know that what initially drew me in was that the subject of the story, Henry Worsley, was obsessed with Sir Ernest Shackleton, the legendary Antarctic explorer. There was a time when I too could not get enough of Shackleton, reading South, his own account of the ill-fated Endurance expedition, and Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, even tracking down a museum exhibition somewhere that commemorated the journey with an incredible display of Shackleton memorabilia...

A large part of what drew me to Shackleton was his story of leading his crew through utterly unimaginable conditions, having to survive winter in Antarctica when their ship became stuck in the ice. At the time of my reading I was looking for ways to push through difficult circumstances (the untimely death of a beloved mentor due to ALS) and Shackleton's extraordinary perseverance fascinated (and motivated) me. (PS Grann's article for the New Yorker does a lovely job describing Shackleton's quest, and includes some stunning photos.)

Henry Worsley, the subject of the New Yorker story, seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Shackleton. As the article states, his motto was “Always a little further”—a line from James Elroy Flecker’s 1913 poem “The Golden Journey to Samarkand.” As a soldier he has served in remote and dangerous places, and even survived intense training for the Special Air Service:
After completing this part of the course, he was flown to Brunei, where he was helicoptered into a jungle filled with orangutans and cloud leopards and poisonous snakes. He had to survive for a week while eluding a band of soldiers tasked with hunting him down. The administrators of the course had eyes on the ground to observe him—to see what kind of clay he was made of. Later, he was subjected to an interrogation intended to break him. “You are beaten up,” one applicant told a reporter, noting that any vulnerability was exploited: “If you’ve got a phobia about spiders, they’ll use it against you.” Each year, only about fifteen per cent of applicants pass the selection course. Worsley was among them. 
I mean, really.

A good part of the New Yorker article describes Worsley's first trek in Antarctica, to mark the anniversary of Shackleton's trip. (Have no fear, no spoilers here.) It is spell-binding reading. Anyone else would have considered it their life's work to have accomplished what he did in that first journey, yet he started hearing "the lure of little voices" and decided to launch a second, solo expedition just three years later. This quote is given as a way of describing the reason why:
“Why? On account of the great geographical discoveries, the important scientific results? Oh no; that will come later, for the few specialists. This is something all can understand. A victory of human mind and human strength over the dominion and powers of Nature; a deed that lifts us above the great monotony of daily life; a view over shining plains, with lofty mountains against the cold blue sky, and lands covered by ice-sheets of inconceivable extent . . . the triumph of the living over the stiffened realm of death.
Though Worsley's journey was outwardly far more impressive, the older I get the more I have decided that just living life is, on a smaller scale, a sort of "victory of human mind and human strength over the dominion and powers of Nature." Over the course of our lives we face trauma and tragedy, profound joys and paralyzing sorrows, both personal and global.

The question is not only how we will get through such things, but what we will become through the process. THIS is why I am fascinated by Shackleton and Worsley, and why I am always on the lookout for memoirs and biographies that give a glimpse into how some people are able to grow, even enlarge, through struggle. This isn't an abstract or philosophical quest for me; I genuinely want to know because as I have faced the death of those dearest to me and the betrayal of those I trusted, I have been sorely tested. When I have sat with people facing all manner of agony, be it suicide or divorce or cancer or disaster, I have been left speechless and almost dizzy with empathy. As I walk with people through these things, I find that I want to have more trail markers to follow. This life thing is really hard.

Today I came across some words from a book I read a couple of years ago called The Road to Character by David Brooks that helped me process the questions from Worsley's quest into sharper focus. He has a compilation in the back of the book that he titles the Humility Code - a list of qualities he gleaned from the various persons he profiled in the book. These qualities address some big questions that I feel are also addressed, at least obliquely, by Grann's examination of Henry Worsley: Toward what should I orient my life? How do I mold my nature to make it gradually better day by day? Brooks has a robust list of fifteen qualities, yet it is the last one that grabs me still the most:
Maturity is not based on talent or any of the mental or physical gifts that help you ace an IQ test or run fast or move gracefully. It is not comparative. It is earned not by being better than other people at something, but by being better than you used to be. It is earned by being dependable in times of testing, straight in times of temptation. Maturity does not glitter. It is not built on the traits that make people celebrities. A mature person possesses a settled unity of purpose. The mature person has moved from fragmentation to centeredness, has achieved a state in which the restlessness is over, the confusion about the meaning and purpose of life is calmed. The mature person can make decisions without relying on the negative and positive reactions from admirers or detractors because the mature person has steady criteria to determine what is right. That person has said a multitude of noes for the sake of a few overwhelming yeses.
People have asked me what I call the work I do, and to keep it brief, I've decided to call it "leadership development." That's the short answer. But if I have more time, or the person keeps probing, I try to venture into the territory described here -- I like to walk with people as they seek to mature. We cannot force people to do this. But if they decide to step out into the "white darkness" of life itself, it's nice to have a buddy. I'm so grateful for the privilege of getting to do that with many people over the years, and yet some days, it feels like I'm just getting started. As Worsley quoted, “Always a little further.”


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...