See the Big Fish

June 15th, 2017

One freedom factor in my Workplace Oasis model is FOCUS. To illustrate this concept, I ask participants to write down on individual sticky notes all the “little things” that get in the way of achieving the team mission. These obstacles are things like distractions, extra meetings, paperwork, side projects, etc. They then cover a snorkel mask with the sticky notes to demonstrate how difficult it is to see the BIG FISH–or the main priorities in their work. I then ask teams to discuss how to minimize or remove these obstacles in their daily work so they can once again achieve clarity on what work matters most. Give it a try and see productivity soar!

Have “The Talk” with Your Boss

March 13th, 2017

talk bubblesI recently had a conversation with a friend who talked about her unhealthy relationship with her “horrible” boss. He didn’t appreciate her; in fact he seemed to go out of his way to avoid praising her. In return, she admitted to committing little acts of resistance, like not getting back to him in a timely manner when he requested information. She felt that they had mutual disregard for each other, and that their relationship had disintegrated to the point that she was now looking for another job. Now maybe you can relate to this story, thinking, “I am in the same boat!”

But I say, before jumping ship, have “the talk” with your boss. You know how in a dating relationship, when it starts going downhill, you ask to have “the talk” with your partner? Well I think you owe yourself the same conversation with your leader. Why? If nothing else, to get on the same page, to clear the air, to arrive at mutual understanding, to MAKE THINGS BETTER. In the story above, my friend was making a lot of assumptions about how her boss was thinking and feeling about her. Truth be told, he probably doesn’t think and feel much about her at all. Why? Because he is caught up in his own world, like we all are. I doubt he is actively trying to make things worse for her, or at least not to the point she thinks he is. He is, however, probably blowing things out of proportion like she is for him, and maybe engaging in some resistance maneuvers himself. The cycle of misperception and misbehavior keeps churning, and escalating to the point where the relationship looks hopeless.

So how do you have “the talk”?

First, get your head on straight by checking your perceptions. In the example I’m using, my friend could ask herself, what really makes this leader “horrible”? Is it just that he leads her differently than she would lead herself? She answered this question: yes. She said he has a brilliant mind and brings much to the table but definitely has a very different personality and skill set than she. Now the key is to the enter “the talk” with this mindset intact, thinking about the positive qualities of your leader.

Second, see your leader as an ally not an enemy. You should think of yourself as a team member on equal footing (even though your titles and pay grades say differently). You have to go in knowing your own value and worth, and knowing that your opinions have value and worth. Assuming you are a great employee with an amazing set of talents, you have nothing to be intimidated about when entering “the talk.” Know your power.

Third, be open and honest about what you’ve been feeling, keeping your words and tone as neutral as possible to keep defenses down. Stick to the facts and stay in descriptive mode, not judgment mode. Discuss the assumptions you have been making about your leader. Let him or her tell you where you are right and where you are wrong. Showing a little vulnerability will go a long way to keeping defenses down too. Admit that you are miserable. How can s/he get defensive about that? It’s your reality.

Fourth, be clear about what you want and how it will serve both you AND your leader AND the organization. In other words, don’t complain, make a business case for what you want and need. Understand what makes your leader tick, and gear your persuasive message to fit. For example, my friend said that her boss is very analytical and numbers-driven. Okay, so go in with some stats and percentages related to your performance to highlight what you need to happen.

Lastly, keep the end in mind. Remember you want to return you and your leader to a better relationship state. If you are thinking of quitting anyway, what have you got to lose? I bet “the talk” will be very illuminating as it will give your leader the rare chance to discuss how he or she is feeling too. I’m guessing that some of your assumptions will be incorrect (aren’t they always?) and others will hit the mark. I know “the talk” seems a little scary but you know what is scarier? Suffering in silence in a way that hurts you, your leader, and your team. The desired outcome of “the talk” for you should be to return to a state of joy, fulfillment, and achievement so you can stay with the organization and do your best work.

Purpose is Not Your Job, it’s Your Joy

January 17th, 2017

Quite a few years ago, one of my brothers bought and moved into my other brother’s house. The family was all there participating in the “joy” of moving day. My youngest nephew, Jackson, was probably 4 or 5 at the time. As people trudged back and forth through the house, arms full of boxes, poor Jackson kept getting in the way. He was reminded, sometimes in raised voices, that he was an obstacle. Obviously feeling “in the way” made him sad and upset. So I had the bright idea of giving him the “job” of watching for when people came up to the house carrying boxes, and then opening the door for them. He loved it. He had a purpose. He was smiling and enjoying himself; partly, or perhaps mainly, because he was no longer getting yelled at! However, big brother Jacob came along and saw how much fun Jackson was having, and how much praise he was receiving, and decided to steal some for himself. He aggressively took over “door duty” from Jackson. You can guess what happened next. Jackson cried and wailed in agony. The adults were probably thinking, “Hey, it’s just a job, get over it kid.” But it was more than a job; it was a purpose. He was contributing. He was part of the team. He dedicated himself to the big family project of moving. When purpose is taken away at work, we all feel like Jackson on the inside. Sure, we may not cry and wail, but the sadness is there; the emptiness creeps in. We may not even be able to identify it, and we may even tell ourselves, it’s just a job what does it matter? But it does matter. Purpose matters. It is what makes us WANT to go to work and makes us want to STAY at work.  So make sure that you have a clear path to your purpose, that it is the center of your focus, your efforts. If it is not, take steps to make it so. Then guard and keep your purpose free of “work trash” that tries to get in the way. Work with your team to streamline and simplify processes so your purpose can be achieved. Purpose is not a job, it is your joy!

Leading in Uncertain Times

November 9th, 2016

No matter how you voted in the presidential election, emotions are no doubt running high. Ambiguity is the great equalizer–it puts everyone in the same boat. A leader’s job in a sea of unknowns is to reach out to all people in the boat and gather their feedback about how to navigate. In this case the leader has no experience in public service. It is then the responsibility of the public to help steer the ship. I suppose it is not unlike when George Washington reluctantly stepped into the role. Imagine his trepidation and how he must have relied on the support of others to make decisions that would set the course of this country.

Now think about your own leadership and how it shifts during uncertainty or conflict. Listening to others who do not share our views is the simplest, hardest thing to do. A good leader will not label the feedback he or she receives as wrong or stupid. It comes from a place of truth for each person and deserves to be honored. The discussion must shift from opinions to desired outcomes. A good leader will work backwards from end result to action. Decision making in these times should not be rushed but carefully considered. Resist the urge to suppress dissent for there is much to be learned from opposing viewpoints. It is a privilege to lead others. They put their confidence in you, and trust that you will serve them well. Be like George. Gather people around you who are smart, talented, and dedicated to achieving end goals, and then listen, and even follow. You may be delighted and surprised at what you and your team can accomplish together.

Fun Seekers: Zap the Spirit Killers!

August 5th, 2016

The freedom to have fun is one of the elements in my model of employee motivation. However, the fun I speak of is not the kind that comes from playing ping-pong or pinball at work (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I think fun on the job is best when it comes naturally from, strangely enough, doing your job! It’s fun when you get to play to your strengths. It’s fun when you get to be creative. It’s fun to do things your way. It’s fun to do what you enjoy. For me, I enjoy working in PowerPoint. I could putz around in it all day and be happy. (I know I’m weird like that.) For you, working on a slideshow might be pure drudgery. So first identify what’s fun for you and then talk to your leader about how your talents and strengths are being used/not used. Do a check-up on the reason why you were hired. Are you fulfilling the mission the organization initially laid out for you?

For example, I was hired in one large organization to conduct leadership and professional development training. Next thing you know, I was asked to coordinate retirement seminars! How did that happen? That’s a step in the wrong direction that needs to be investigated and discussed. I was hired for one reason, based on my qualifications and experience, but then was handed a role that was outside the scope of my personal purpose. On a larger scale, the task fell outside my department’s mission as well.

I think it happens all the time—work piles on from outside sources that are beyond our control. We think, “Well that’s no big deal; it’s not too hard or time consuming, so I’ll just do it.” The trouble is, the work keeps stockpiling, and it’s not work that falls in our wheelhouse. When we accumulate tasks that we do not enjoy or do not excel in they become what I call “spirit killers.” They drain us, they steal time from us, they seep energy from us, and they definitely stop the fun. So, when faced with a spirit killer, ask for a sit-down discussion with your leader to assess whether your talents are being used to the fullest. It’s like a post-hire interview. (You can even call it that if you like!) Am I doing the work I was hired to be doing? Am I exercising my talents, the ones we discussed in my interview, in a way that serves the organization best? How can I do more work that interests, inspires, and enthuses me? How can I use my strengths to propel the organization forward? Framed in this way, I think most leaders would welcome and enjoy this conversation. There is no need to suffer in silence. It’s time to identify your kind of fun, and strive to make it a bigger part of your world at work. Why wouldn’t ya?

Use Your Gift

May 4th, 2016

My world was completely rocked by the recent passing of Prince. Sigh. What a great talent, a master artist, as everyone knows. But what I personally feel was that he was the creator of the soundtrack of my youth in a rural Minnesota town. I think back to the 1999 album when I was in junior high. We would gather for house parties and his music was always just a little bit naughty–something we didn’t quite fully understand yet, but liked anyway, partly because our parents would not approve. Our theme song for the tennis team was “Delirious.” On the school bus to a tournament we would play “D.M.S.R.” and crank it up, sing “Dance, Music” but then turn it down just on the word “Sex” and back up again on “Romance” so our coach wouldn’t catch on to what we were listening to. We would play “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” at dances where the chaperones must have had no clue about the lyrics! For me it was about the music. I loved the beats, the synths, the funk, what can I say? It was pure joy. Then when Purple Rain came out it was like the heavens had parted and given me the best gift ever. The movie, the soundtrack, pure awesomeness. Forget about the closing lines of Casablanca or Gone with the Wind, is not his performance to “Baby I’m a Star” the best ending to a film you’ve ever seen? I have always loved that song. I would dance to it and pretend that I was a star too, up there on a stage.

I loved anything I could dance to. I made up a whole routine to “Thieves in the Temple” that was pretty darned good—quite interpretive, very dramatic. Nobody saw it of course, so you will have to take my word for it. I created Prince mix tapes for working out in the house. I loved that I loved his whole albums. Everybody knows “Raspberry Beret” but I loved “Paisley Park,” “Tambourine,” and “America” from the Around the World in a Day album. The Diamonds and Pearls album had some silly yet great dance tunes on it like “Jughead” and “Push.” It’s amazing my living room carpet didn’t become completely threadbare! I remember once my mom walked in while I was dancing to “Gett Off” right when he was singing about the number of positions in a one night stand. She was like, “Ummm, what did he just say?” “Oh, nothing mom!”

Some of his music has a throw-back sound that I just love. Again on Diamonds and Pearls he had a couple of jazz-infused songs like “Strollin’” and “Willing and Able.” So good. You just have to tap your foot and smile all the way through it. Then there’s the powerful political statement of “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”—one of my favorite ballads. And that’s just one album I’m using as an example. He could shift musical genres (from pop to funk to jazz to soul) and lyrical themes (from romance to sex to politics to partying) as easily as he could shift instruments.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but my biggest one is this: I had the opportunity to go on a tour of Paisley Park in the early 90s and I TURNED IT DOWN. I was living in Minneapolis at the time, and a friend of a friend worked there as a wardrobe stylist. I remember she said her job was very stressful and chaotic, like at a moment’s notice she had to hunt down a dozen pairs of leather boots for the dancers. She offered to show me around, and this was back when Paisley was on lockdown like Fort Knox. For one of the few times in my life I got shy, I guess because I felt intimidated and/or freaked out, and I was all sheepish, like, “No, that’s OK.” What??!!!!

Thankfully I was able to see him in concert in Omaha in 1997. I remember lying awake in bed not being able to sleep in anticipation of it. Back then there was no internet so I had to go stand in line at a Ticketmaster location. Even with careful and intense preparation I did not get good seats at all—third row from the back as I recall. But once inside it really didn’t matter. I was so thankful I brought binoculars! I was in awe by how he could just hop from instrument to instrument with no trouble at all. He played his songs like one big medley. It was a little frustrating that he didn’t seem to finish a song, but would roll right into the next. However, his catalog was so big and he merged his songs in a cool way so all was forgiven. I remember him calling out to the sound and lighting people to get things just right. He wanted it the way he wanted it. He stopped in the middle of a saxophone solo to say “Turn the lights down in here; I’m trying to get sexy!” He played the opening notes of “Darling Nikki” on the piano and the crowd went absolutely berserk. He stopped, pretending to be in shock, and gasped, “I’m gonna tell your ma!” He must have known that we had listened to his music covertly growing up. He had a 15-minute dedication to God in the middle of the concert.  In stark contrast, he played “Gett Off” and used a cane to point to people to come up on stage to dance with him. With my lousy seat I knew I didn’t have a chance of getting up there but I was tempted to run down front. Looking back—why didn’t I?

Saturday April 16 was my birthday. While Prince was making his final appearance at Paisley Park, I was celebrating in a bar, selecting three songs of his to play on the jukebox. I included “Sarah,” a fun, little-known ditty off The Vault album, hoping to introduce the crowd to something new. It makes me sad that the songs I picked didn’t play before we left for the night. Oh well. I guess I can think of that now as our cosmic connection—that I was thinking of him on my birthday, while he appeared at Paisley for the last time, playing “Chopsticks” on his new piano. I always have and always will select his songs to play on a jukebox. His music won’t die as long as I’m around, or the millions of fans around the world are around. I can only hope the next generation will carry it forward.

Prince used his gift to inspire us to use our gifts. As a fellow Minnesotan, he was one of us. If he could succeed, we could succeed. What I am struck by, especially, was his ability to trust his gift and have the courage to share it in a way that suited him. That’s where alot of us normal people get stuck. We have to believe in our gifts AND really not care if other people don’t get it. That takes a lot of guts. Do you think Prince cared about whether his creative process was “right,” whether the end result was “acceptable”? Nope, I don’t think so. I just watched an interview that Prince did with Larry King in 1999. Prince said, “To use your gift in a creative way—that’s the best thing you can do.” So I encourage all of us to do what is best, to have the courage to creatively share our unique gifts with the world. After all, Prince would want it that way.

Empathy Depends on You!

February 16th, 2016

I was wandering through the aisles of Target in search of, well, ahem, “feminine product.” I came upon a short, gray-haired older gentleman, wearing a trench coat, hat, and round spectacles. He was standing in front of a display of incontinence undergarments, motionless, with tears in his eyes. He was just standing there, looking at all the different options, and sad, presumably, about his need for that particular product. Well, the feminine stuff was on a nearby shelf, so I grabbed a great big package of maxi pads. I walked over to the man but didn’t say a word. I held up the package of pads in front of him, pointed at it, and shrugged my shoulders as if to say, “It’s OK, it’s life, we all have to deal with its unpleasant side effects.” A big smile crept across his face.  With new found resolve, he looked back at the display, took a deep breath, and grabbed a package off the shelf. We nodded at each other and went our separate ways.

Little acts of empathy can have a big impact in everyday situations. At Workplace Oasis, I speak of the role of empathy in building a strong foundation of relational support at work. What little thing can you do today to show someone that you understand and care about his or her circumstances? It only takes a moment to step out of your own head space to be present for someone else. So show empathy when given the opportunity–people are depending on you!

Let’s Do Less with More

January 18th, 2016

Following another round of budget cuts, layoffs, or hiring freezes, employees usually hear, “Well, I guess we will just have to do more with less!” The trouble with doing “more with less” is that there will be a breaking point. Given all the statistics out there on the health consequences of being overstressed and overworked, it’s clear we passed that point a long time ago. Furthermore, when employees can’t use their talents to do the job they were hired for, they start to feel frustrated, depressed, and disengaged. We need to get back to basics, and focus on what I call the CORE of the business. As an organization or department, why do you exist? What is your primary function? How do you serve the mission? Once you answer those questions it is time to run an analysis of your daily work.

Leaders: have individuals work alone first on this process, and then facilitate a group discussion. Ask: “What side jobs, busy work, unnecessary reports, or extra projects are we doing that do not serve the core mission of our business?” “What jobs could be STOPPED or at least streamlined or simplified so we can focus on what matters?” New employees or outsiders are great at spotting these problems. They are like toddlers always asking “Why do we do that?” The answers are often rooted in the past, and have more to do with ritual than with current needs.

As a new organization development consultant in a large organization, I once asked about the end users of a detailed, time-consuming report that we produced on a regular basis. I wanted to know who the stakeholders were and why the report mattered to them. The answer was, “Well at one point [circa 1976, I’m guessing], one person wanted to know the figures on that, so we’ve done this report ever since.” Nobody since that person, who had long left the company, read that report. NOBODY read that report. Thanks to my toddler-like inquisition, that particular exercise in futility was killed on the spot. Ahhh, what a relief! To “sell” your new streamlined approach to others, if need be, develop good business reasons for removing or revising processes. Have the organizational mission and the good ol’ strategic plan handy if you need to. Show how you can better meet the needs of your customers by focusing your attention on your main priorities.  When busyness is stripped away, and the core of the business remains, then people can put MORE energy and focus into achieving the mission.

Sunday Night Dread?

December 8th, 2015

Research shows Sunday nights are the least restful for many Americans. Could it be that we have the upcoming work week on our minds? Likely, the answer is yes. Certainly this problem will be intensified if we are not particularly fond of what we do or where we work. Then we could fall victim to what I like to call Sunday Night Dread: that overwhelming feeling that, tomorrow, you have to GO BACK TO WORK. But what can you do about SND? The answer is to first search out and identify what is REALLY wrong with your situation. Is it your boss, your coworkers, the culture, the work itself? Then, what is it exactly about the people, processes, or place that is not fitting for you? Once you figure that out, you can take the appropriate action, be it big or small. When I was in sales it became clear to me that my VALUES did not align with the management’s values. The whole culture was wrong for me, and it became clear that I needed to make a big change: I had to quit. However, in a different job I was given a major “side job” that was dragging me down. It was what I like to call a “spirit killer” because it was seriously wrecking my mojo! I brought the issue to my boss, because I figured I wasn’t doing anybody any good by simply maintaining the status quo. I was not even close to innovating, growing, or improving in that role. Luckily, my boss appreciated my candor and agreed that I should step back out of that task.  It was a small change, but guess what? He replaced me with someone who had a lot of enthusiasm for the job, and excelled in the process! It was a win-win. Best of all I was sleeping better on Sunday nights. So, if you are experiencing SND, take action, rest easy, and your Mondays will be a whole lot better.

Highwire Passion

November 28th, 2015

Whenever I watch Nik Wallenda  preparing to walk on a 2-inch highwire, I am reminded of his great-grandfather Karl’s famous statement: “Life is on the wire; everything else is just waiting.” Karl Wallenda was the patriarch of the Flying Wallendas, a multi-generational clan of tightrope walkers who performed amazing stunts throughout most of the last century. Even through multiple accidents and tragedies, Karl carried on and followed his passion, up to his own death that happened, as you might have guessed, on the wire. Karl’s words remind us all to do what we love, to the point that everything else feels like “waiting.” What do you do, be it a career or a hobby, that makes you feel this way, like you can’t wait to get to it? If you can’t think of anything, you may need to explore new endeavors that will spark your enthusiasm, even (or perhaps especially) if it means stepping outside of your comfort zone.  Sometimes we have to walk without a net, so stop waiting and step on out there!