Goals: No matter where you are, the rules don’t change.

 

This IMG_4636is nothing compared to life.

That’s what I told myself at mile 13 – when my energy dropped, and stomach growled. I was on a 16-mile training run in preparation for the Dallas Marathon.

Things got uncomfortable, but one thought kept me going: “I’ve survived life thus far. Sixteen miles on the trail – I can do.”

The rules that get me through my runs and training are the same rules that get me through work, and life in general.

When it starts to burn, push harder. Does running feel great all the time? Nah. Do I want to stop when discomfort starts? Yup. But discomfort doesn’t mean it’s time to stop. It’s a sign that I’m outside my comfort zone – which is where I want to be. I tell myself that after this push up the hill, things will get better. Discomfort is okay. After all, what’s life without a little tension? So on the trail and in life, I never back away from the burn.

Discipline pays off. Running as a sport takes discipline. Between the diet, workout regime, and scheduling as you adjust life to fit into your runs – there are many times when you have to do things you don’t want to do, and refrain from things you actually want to do – like that second glass of wine or happy hour with the girls. But discipline keeps you on track. In the words of Michael Jordan: “If you do the work, you get rewarded. There are no shortcuts in life.”

Quitting is not an option. When I get tired, I remind myself that I wouldn’t quit in the office, so why quit on my run. And when work is wearing me out, I think of my grit on the trail and act accordingly. The same rules apply no matter where you are. I have eight 5ks, three 10ks, and one half marathon under my belt.* I’m not the fastest, most graceful, or most fit person out there, but none of that matters to me. What matters is that I start and finish.

Goals – gotta have them. I set goals that stretch me. I set the big goal first, then establish a series of smaller goals to get me there. I signed up for the marathon, then stuck to an organized training regime, then signed up for various runs (including my first half marathon) in preparation for the big fish. In pursuit of the new big goal, I did a few things I’d never done before.

Smile. You never know where it may lead.  Much happiness exists wherever runners are. We nod, smile and wave at each other. Sometimes it’s a yell of encouragement – a “looking good” or “you can do it!” Every now and then there’s a hi-five or thumbs up. I remind myself to make eye contact and smile, because even brief positive interactions create good energy. This is no different than being at work. I remind myself to smile there too, and to slow down and enjoy the interactions. Do you ever find yourself fixing your coffee or heating your lunch in a hurry, trying to get done before someone comes in because small talk is not your thing? I do. But if I can hi-five a stranger in the park, I can make small talk with colleagues I spend 40+ hours a week with.

Patience is a virtue.  I told a friend I was headed out on my longest run ever. Sixteen miles. She asked how long that would take. I told her it would take about three hours. Her response: “That’s why I don’t run. Three whole hours running? That demands a lot of patience.” Before that conversation, I had never thought about the amount of patience running required. There is the patience needed to train, and the patience needed on that long, grueling run.

And lastly, give credit (to yourself) where credit is due. It wasn’t until recently that I felt comfortable calling myself a “runner.”  In my mind, runners broke records, earned medals, and made crowds cheer. “I do none of that,” I thought. But I do. I break my own records. My new-found comfort with calling myself a runner – a word that before seemed too grand an adjective for my level of athleticism – is only one of the ways I have evolved as a runner. I am okay being one of the world’s most “Okayest” runners.

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Change Begins with You

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Bud Hammes was the catalyst for change in La Crosse, WI – a city of 52,000 people.

If one man could trigger change in the mindset of 50,000+ people, why do some think they are too “small” to trigger significant change in their organizations?

When I hear comments like “That’s above my pay grade,” or “He’s the boss, let him deal with it,” or “I just work here, what do I know?” – I cringe.

However, when I come across stories like the one featured on WABE (Atlanta’s NPR station) about La Crosse, WI – I am reminded that everyone is not complacent, or that easily discouraged.

As a medical ethicist, Bud Hammes is often in the room with families who have to make tough medical decisions on behalf of loved ones unable to make decisions themselves. Should they pull the plug, or not? Is the additional treatment worth it, or not?

In the past when Hammes asked, “‘what would your Dad want,’ ‘what would your Mom want?’ the answer was the same again and again.” No one knew what their loved ones wanted.

He’d had enough of witnessing this painful conversation. The hospital distributed living wills to patients during routine visits but most people put off completing them – probably because they didn’t want to think about death, and many thought they had time to worry about that later down the line. But Hammes knew better.

The hospital where he worked started training staff, ministers, lawyers and others in the community on how to understand and make these tough decisions. During routine health visits, the living will discussion became a regular part of the process. It was difficult at first, but eventually more and more people became at ease with it.

Today, 96% of La Crosse residents have completed a living will – way higher than the national percentage of 30. Death is now a comfortable conversation, and everyone from young children to spouses know and understand the wishes of their loved ones. Should something tragic happen, they know what to do.

Hammes implemented the Respecting Choices program because he thought it was the right thing to do. As a result, families no longer have to guess what the people in their lives want.

Another result, however, has been decreased costs for end-of-life health care. “It turns out that if you allow patients to choose and direct their care, they often choose a course that is much less expensive,” says Jeff Thompson, CEP of Gundersen Hospital.

Dartmouth Health Atlas reported that La Cross spends less on patient health care at the end of life than any other U.S. state.

With the recent changes in health care, many facilities around the country have been reaching out to Bud Hammes and Gunderson to learn more about what they are doing. The facility managed to impact not only people’s lives, but also the hospital’s financial standing by implementing one new procedure that started with one person’s idea.

Bud Hammes could have easily said: “Oh well. It’s not my problem.” He could have decided that this issue was beyond his control. But he didn’t. Instead he led from where he was and impacted the people around him.

The lesson here is that things are never out of your control. You may not be able to make major changes immediately, and you may not have freedom to make all of the decisions, but focusing on the things you can impact is enough to make real change.

How #Gala4Haiti Contributed to My Work-Play Balance

Forget about Work-Life balance. What you should really go for is Work-Play balance.

 

Let’s face it: for many of us, work is so ingrained in our lives and in who we are that it’s a challenge, and sometimes impossible, to separate the two. As much as possible, I aim to balance out the work not with life, but with play.

 

I recently had the opportunity to do this at #Gala4Haiti – a black tie event featuring live entertainment and a fashion show with both Haitian and Haitian American designers showcasing their collections.  The December 12 event was hosted by Consul General Gandy Thomas and the staff of the General Consulate of Haiti in Atlanta, GA. The purpose of the event was to showcase the artistry of Haitian and Haitian American designers and further establish Haiti as a country where the arts can thrive. As stated by Consul General Gandy himself – Haiti is open for business!

 

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I got to put on my favorite black dress and super-high heels and be around other sparkly people for the evening. I saw a few old contacts and made some new ones. I enjoyed delicious Haitian cusine, got to hear and speak some Creole (I don’t do that often enough!) and imagine myself  wearing the runway selections of the evening – like this blue and yellow number:

 

I so need this for my next trip to the Caribbean!

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Beautiful.

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I need this in my closet, too!

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Fierce!

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There were way more looks than I could capture, so I spent the evening enjoying the show, and letting my memory be the recorder.

 

#Gala4Haiti gave me something to get excited about during the week. What made it so exciting is that it was completely unexpected. One tweet led to another, then another, and before I knew it Danica Kombol  from Everywhere had invited me to the event! (Thanks Danica!)

 

When we enjoy our time “on the clock,” our time “off the clock” is that much better, and vice versa. My play-time outside of the office adds to my work in that I can draw from those experiences when working on creative projects or problem-solving. Because of my outer-work experiences, I have more stories to tell and more memories to store. In addition, the play helps to keep me well-rounded, and  who doesn’t enjoy working with well-rounded people?

 

So my call-to-action to you is be open to receive the unexpected, and forget about Work-Life balance! Trust me, things are way more exciting when you focus on a healthy balance between work, and play.

The DNA of My Leadership Heroes

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I’ve worked with some amazing leaders. Some I reported to, others I collaborated with and others I watched from afar. There are seven people represented below. These are the characteristics of theirs which I admire:

  1. She is genuine.
  2. She trusts her team to make decisions.
  3. Under fire, she is calm.
  4. He is flexible.
  5. They are confident.
  6. She’s crafty.
  7. He knows how to stretch his team without overwhelming them.
  8. He is fair. All employees are equal as far as his actions go.
  9. She’s a great presenter. If she says it, you’ll believe it.
  10. He cares about his team members’ professional development.
  11. He never lets himself get comfortable, and by default, he never lets his team get comfortable.
  12. Even when she doesn’t agree, she’s graceful.
  13. She shows a personal interest in the people she works with. If you’re sick at home, you can count on a visit.
  14. She pays attention to the details. All of them.
  15. He knows how to build consensus. Before it’s all said and done everyone thinks the plan is their idea – and it is.
  16. He uses competition to motivate the team.
  17. She believes in keeping everyone informed about what her team is doing.
  18. Her laugh comes easily.
  19. They are consistent.
  20. He embraces the unique personalities of each team member.
  21. They protect their teams.
  22. And this I can say of every single person who has ever hired me, from age 16 to now: They gave me a chance.

 I put this list together as a road map for and reminder of the type of leader I aim to be.

What’s the DNA of your leadership heroes?

How Would Your Employees Answer the Question: “How Was Work?”

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“If all the people leave the building there is no organization left in it. The organization is the people, their relationships, their motivations, their energies, their values, their aspirations or lack of them. It’s a living breathing thing. A successful organization is one that reciprocates with its environment and one that helps to enrich the environment upon which it depends. When that relationship is broken the organism dies.”  – Sir Ken Robinson

On a typical day, how do you think your employees would answer the question: “How was work?” Be honest. I think the answer would reveal some things about your company culture. Now…how do you WANT your employees to answer the question: “How was work? I think your response here would start a conversation about the type of culture you want.

 

What if we based our goals around company culture on that one question? You probably get asked this question on a regular basis. Perhaps even daily. It’s as routine as “How are you?” or “Good morning.” The answer can go either way depending on the situation. It could be good, bad, or neutral. A series of recent events led me to wonder about the prevalence of this question and about its relation to company culture. Below is one of the events that sparked these thoughts.

 

A Conversation with My Stepdad, Max.

“Hi Shida. I was calling to see how your first day at work was. Mine was FANTASTIC.” My stepdad left this message for me on the evening of October 28. We both started a new job on this same day. We were both excited about our new opportunities and spent the week before getting ready in our own way. For me, that meant getting my car fixed, doing some reading, and getting lots of rest. For him it meant getting his work-related supplies organized, getting a haircut and also getting rest. The night before our first day we checked in with each other. Coincidentally, we’d both signed up to arrive at 7:30 a.m. So by the 9 o’clock hour on the night before, we were preparing for sleep.

 

On the evening of October 28, he called to see how my first day was. His was FANTASTIC. And over the past couple of weeks we’ve continued the check-ins. It was pretty coincidental that we’d resigned around the same time, had some time off in between, and started on the same day. These events have made each of us a little more interested in the others situation. Others have been interested in my new adventures, too. During my first two weeks on the job, friends and fam called every day. The words they spoke were: “How was work today?” But the tone of their voices said: “Do you really like your new job? We really hope you do because we’d hate for you to have made a bad decision so…you like it for real?”

 

I’ve started new jobs before, and each time my loved ones focused on something different. This time around they have been really focused on my contentment – with the office environment, with my team and with the work. The last time around they were concerned about whether or not I could learn from the position. And rewind back to 2007, they were all just happy I’d found a J.O.B. Regardless of the situation though, their probing usually begins with a “How was work?”

 

Keep in mind that this is probably the case with many of your employees, too. So as you continuously muse on your workplace culture, consider that you might be able to cut your meetings on the topic in half by starting with the one question that touches just about everyone: HOW. WAS. WORK?” Once you figure out how you’d want your employees to answer that question you’re halfway there.

How Colin Powell Translated his Political Life into a Book of Leadership Lessons

Colin PowellI am not a political person. I get most of my political news from twitter, mixed in with conversations about #Catfish, #Scandal, #CommunityManagement and #shitblackgirlssay. I get a little more serious about politics on some Sunday mornings as I catch up by watching Meet the Press with Dick Gregory. What I don’t know, I learn there.

That being said, I was surprised when after browsing four aisles of books at the library, I stopped at Colin Powell’s book: “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.” They had it propped up on a stand – something they do to market “featured books of the week.” It worked. I checked it out, and to my surprise, it wasn’t a book about politics. While he used many examples from his military and White House days, this is simply a book from a man sharing lessons he learned on the job over the years. There were many great examples and stories in the book – here are a handful that stayed with me:

Get Mad, then Get Over It.

Getting mad makes you human. Get mad, if it’s appropriate communicate that anger in a respectful way, then get over it. Blowing up and holding grudges will get you nowhere.

 

Avoid Having Your Ego So Close to Your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It.

Sometimes we believe in an idea so much that when we fail to sell it, we take it personally. Hey, you win some and you lose some. If you lose one, that doesn’t make you a loser, it just means this time around your idea wasn’t the winner. Back to rule #1 – get mad, then get over it.

Check Small Things.

“Success ultimately rests on small things, lots of small things. Leaders have to have a feel for small things – a feel for what is going on in the depths of an organization where small things reside. The more senior you become, the more you are insulated by pomp and staff, and the harder and more necessary it becomes to know what is going on six floors down.” Walk around, talk to people, make them comfortable, and stay connected.

Share Credit.

“When something goes well, make sure you share the credit down and around the whole organization. Let employees believe they were the ones who did it. They were. Send out awards, phone calls, notes, letters, pats on the back, smiles, promotions – anything to spread the credit. People need recognition and sense of worth as much as they need food and water.” And if the shit hits the fan it’s your fault, not theirs. You are responsible. Figure out how it happened, fix it, and keep things moving.

Busy Bastards

The “Busy Bastards” – as Colin calls them, are people who create work for the sake of creating work, just to appear busy. You’ve seen them: they never leave the office. They come in on weekends. They come in at the crack of dawn and start flinging emails left and right. And if they manage a team, they alter everyone else’s schedule and work pattern because people are trying to work on their time. “I pay my employees for the quality of their work not the quantity,” says Colin. He expects his staff to work normal hours and get home at a decent time. He wants them to have a life outside the office. This is an interesting topic that can trigger lots and lots of conversation and sentiments because people and leaders have different ideas about it. I don’t know where you stand, but I’m with Colin on this one.

Potential Matters Too, Not Just Performance.

“Past performance alone does not adequately predict someone’s future performance…The leader must understand his subordinates, an imperative that includes identifying, training, watching, mentoring, encouraging, and evaluating the next generation of an organization’s leaders.”

Never Walk Past a Mistake.

Just because you act like something didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it disappears. Colin encourages us to call out mistakes immediately and make on-the-spot-corrections. This not only shows attention to detail and reinforces standards, it also encourages others to have the moral courage to speak out when they see something wrong happening.

Tell Me What You Know , and Tell Me Early

When things go wrong, the first instinct is often to hurry up and fix it. Once it’s fixed you can either share the news with your organization’s leaders and tell them to fret not because it has been handled. Or, you can keep mum. What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? Colin says, “Wrong.” He advised his staff to follow the following outline when delivering news:

  • Tell me what you know
  • Tell me what you don’t know
  • Then tell me what you think
  • Always distinguish which from which

And don’t wait to share bad news – share it immediately so everyone can come together on determining a solution.

The Indispensible Person

“I have run into too many people in public life who think they turn the sun on each morning. If not for them there would be no light and heat.” He said a mouthful right there. The bottom line is, the person who you think is indispensible, because without them nothing can be done, may actually be holding your team back. With them jumping up to do everything, others on the team start to fall back/slack off. Do what you will with that piece of information.

 Be Gone.

“When you’re done pumping, let go of the handle.” Many people retire or leave a company for other opportunities but refuse to let go. Whether it be through honorary, emeritus or similar positions, or by holding on to relationships with people at the former organization for the sake of staying in the loop, they find ways to stay connected. Once you leave a company you have no loop to stay in, and you should let go. Don’t let go of the meaningful friendships and relationships you developed, but do let go of the ones you hold on to for the sake of still being involved.

Many leadership books talk about leadership in general. Colin’s book on leadership kept me engaged because he tells real life stories from out in the battlefield, from boot camp, from our White House – stories that put you right there in the moment with him, and show examples of how the lessons he’s sharing played out in real life. Reading through his examples made me think about how his lessons can also play out in my real life.