Embracing the precipice
I’m twelve years old and sensibly terrified as my toes clutch the thin, wooden board hundreds of miles above the diving pool at the Town of Hempstead Franklin Square Pool. I don’t like this feeling at all and with quiet, young determination, I decide to conquer my fear. And so, the next day, just as terrified, I intentionally climb the industrial metal stair to the diving board, which juts out from the ladder and hovers over the blue, gently wind-rippled water. Other kids are behind me, some kindly encouraging me, others cruelly ridiculing as they impatiently wait for their turn. Despite the overwhelming fear and desire to do anything but, I jump. Submerged, nasal air bubbles lay out an improvised escape route. Miraculously, I rise from the deep water to its surface, swim to the ladder, exit the pool, and immediately queue up for the next terrified ascent, plunge, swim, exit, and the next and the next. During my fourth attempt, while once again trembling on the fluttering board with no discernible decrease in terror, the solemn decision is made to reconcile myself to a life without high dive jumps.
In the intervening decades, though I haven’t once jumped from a high diving board, I have jumped. In fact, since July 2020, when I engaged a coach and began to build my business, jumping has become a regular and frequent activity. And each jump is terrifying. The difference this time is what I am building is more important than the fear I experience. To progress forward, even when every part of me is screaming or silently whispering all the reasons not to, I build and continue to strengthen and expand what I call my surround sound. It’s a supportive structure, community, and network of mentors, coaches, and amazing solopreneur women to guide and keep me accountable, along with webinars, courses, and books to continue to learn. My surround sound provides me with courage, strategies, tools, and resources to walk my camino, i.e., road.
Sometimes, in my life coaching and consulting practice, I use tarot cards as a tool. The illustrations on the cards often help clients recognize their situation, a person, a solution, a truth. One of these cards is called The Fool and depicts a carefree young man with a knapsack in one hand, a white flower in the other, and a small white dog at The Fool’s heels. As he sets out on his adventure from the top of a cliff, The Fool looks up at the cloudless blue, sunny sky while the dog seems to smile up at The Fool and jump in excitement. Neither is looking ahead at the next step, which will surely cast them off the cliff in a literal leap of faith.
As I build my business, I identify daily with The Fool and his leap of faith. And I Iiken my surround sound structure to the ever present dog, offering support and enthusiasm. Fear may cause me to hesitate or delay, but it does not prevent me from acting. Just like the diving board, I suspect I will never overcome the fear; it will never go away. But because taking action through the fear is in service of something I believe in, a business that serves both as a vehicle for personal growth and a vehicle for service that empowers others to realize their dreams, I am willing to endure, to act through the fear. Like its less intense relative, discomfort, fear is becoming familiar and I have changed my attitude toward it. Rather than discouraging or preventing me from action, I greet fear or discomfort as a sign of personal and professional growth.
In his book “15 Invaluable Laws of Growth,” John Maxwell describes three types of people when it comes to having direction in life: 1) People who don’t know what they would like to do; 2) people who know what they would like to do but don’t do it; and 3) people who know what they would like to do and do it. Which are you? If the thought of your next step produces fear or discomfort, take up your knapsack and flower, call on your coach, mentor, or community, smile at the sun, and keep moving.
How big a role do KPIs play in your organization?
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” We've embraced data as essential at measuring performance against goals, and often reference Peter Drucker's quote. I get it. There is a place for data. It can inform where more effort or different strategies need to be implemented, where we are falling short or where we are meeting or exceeding our goals. But if all we pay attention to is numbers, I believe something valuable is lost—your people.
Let me put it this way. When you have your one-on-ones with your supervisor, where is the emphasis placed—on KPIs (key performance indicators) or on where your and other team members' strengths could be best used? The question is one of balance and function. What is the most appropriate use for KPIs and how much emphasis should be placed on them rather than on the development and support of your employees?
Imagine if management was as attentive to the natural strengths and interests of employees as they were to KPIs. Imagine further that they then created roles and positions around those strengths in service of the organization's mission and vision.
How much emphasis is placed on KPIs versus the strengths and interests of people in your organization?
How deep does your trust go?
In a previous video titled "Leaders Set the Tone," I asked about the leadership qualities of the person in your organization with power and authority and how those qualities impacted you. One question was if they trusted you (rather than micromanaging)? Today's question is: How deep does your trust go of your leaders?
Trust must never be assumed and, once established, can be easily lost. Many people, depending on the judgment they make when first meeting someone or how they've been influenced by what they already know or have heard, begin by trusting. The best way to maintain that trust is by following through, doing what you said you would do.
But how do you gain trust where a lack of trust or distrust exists? Trust implies a relationship. A relationship implies a shared history. History implies shared experiences. For example, whether or not you trust government institutions depends on your experience, Did the government institution support you or create unnecessary obstacles and force you to run through a maze of red tape to clear up mistakes they had made? The same holds true for individuals. One of the nicest things said to me was, "I always have time for you" and their actions backed up the claim. How available or responsive is your best friend or spouse when you need help? How high an importance do they place on you and maintaining the relationship?
Trust involves a four-step iterative process that begins with establishing trust. Once established, you build trust. Once built, you maintain trust. Once maintained, you strengthen trust. After that, it's a continual process of maintaining and strengthening as deeper levels of trust are achieved.
When you want to establish trust with a group or individual that has no shared experiences, history, or relationship with you, you'd better be prepared to tell them why. Why do you want to establish a relationship? This was exactly what happened when the Environmental Committee at a nonprofit I worked for, located in one neighborhood, Squirrel Hill, reached out to nonprofit leaders of a nearby neighborhood, Homewood, to form a Redd Up Coalition for litter cleanup. Seemingly, the two neighborhoods had nothing in common and the Homewood leaders regarded the outreach with suspicion. Why did we want to partner with them? When the Committee Chair responded, "Because we're neighbors," which was true, only one road separated the two neighborhoods, Homewood leaders gave us a chance. Trust was given a chance.
Building trust requires a track record. Over time and with regular meetings, the Environmental Committee showed itself as trustworthy. Members followed through on their words and plans with action. They were dependable and accountable. Working closely together, the Committee quickly realized the value and enviable organization of the many Homewood nonprofits. Respect blossomed. Relationships formed. We increasingly dedicated ourselves to the Coalition, its mission, and one another. Trust was built.
It's said if you want to know what someone values, observe where they spend their time and money. Most of our monthly meetings occurred in Homewood. Our knowledge of one another deepened as did our caring about one another. Coalition members from each neighborhood showed up for Redd Up days in one another's neighborhood. Each Redd Up event culminated in a volunteer thank you picnic, which included family members. Trust was maintained through the relationships we nurtured.
Trust is strengthened as the history, experiences, and relationships expand and deepen. The crowning event of the Redd Up Coalition was a community meal celebrated together in Homewood. The meal acknowledged what made us unique and what brought us together. It celebrated our accomplishments and our affection for one another. The meal ended with a cry of "Next Year in Squirrel Hill."
To strengthen trust, the group and individuals must be allowed to expand and grow together. Sadly, the Coalition was prevented from expanding beyond its limited mission of litter cleanup. Because trust takes time to build and, perhaps, due to a lack of strategic marketing, those outside the Coalition did not understand or experience the inspiration, commitment, and magic of our partnership. They kept asking in confusion what we were doing and why we were doing it together. Back to square one. Know why when you reach out to establish trust. And next time, allow the group to grow.
Which phase of trust most accurately describes your current professional relationships: Establish, Build, Maintain, or Strengthen? What plan is in place to ensure trust is maintained and strengthened?
How good a guest are you?
How many have you have lived for a period of time with a friend or relative? Wanting to be a good guest, you observe the little things and try to follow suit out of respect and consideration. For example, you may notice that every time you go into the bathroom, the area around the sink is clean and dry like they maintain it in a hotel room. You start to use your towel to mop up any droplets and may ask about a designated cloth. You notice the garbage is continually taken out and the dishes washed. You find yourself in a routine of bringing down the pails from the upstairs every morning and emptying them. After each meal, you wash the dishes.
Some of these may come more naturally if they also align with your value of keeping things clean and bug-free! You notice what your hosts eat so you can pick up staples such as eggs, avocado, or bananas when they're running low. You pitch in by cooking meals, and washing and folding laundry. In other words, you adapt your style to better mesh with theirs and support them and the household. Some things will come easier than others. Some things, you may never do. When you need to discuss seeming differences in values, you may bring them up with curiosity (rather than a declaration or assumption), for example, "What is your routine regarding emptying the dryer lint trap?" After all, you must also honor your own values and concern over a potential fire hazard.
As a guest in someone else's home, we pay attention to create harmony, realizing that how the home is set up, the routines followed, all create ease and comfort for the hosts. Why should a workplace be any different? Why wouldn't we notice and try to harmonize, for example, with the communication preferences of our colleagues, managers, and employees? Anyone who has participated in a group has witnessed the dynamics of different communication styles. Some team members are quick to react and verbalize. Others need processing time before responding. Note the difference between "react" and "respond." "React" is immediate and may overtake those that need time to reflect and consider before they respond. They may need more facts and information before sharing their thoughts. We want to hear from each person and may need to check in to clarify silences, especially when working through Zoom or other online platform. Asking "Are we processing, confused, or lost?" may elicit a response of "Processing" or "Could we scroll back up to the previous point?"
What we notice in communication may also extend to ideal working environments. A staff member who prefers quiet and to stay with a task or project in increments of hours rather than minutes may function better with a working space further from the office entrance where colleagues are likely to stop in with a friendly knock to update them on the weekend. They may appreciate receiving an email or message rather than someone bursting into their working space, causing them to lose their train of thought. Obviously, there are many communication styles and working preferences.
The question is, what are you doing to notice and adapt, to pay attention to the person and their preferences, not just the task?
I'm a good communicator, right? Right?
Many of us may think we're good at communication, but what we really mean is that communication is easy when we know the person; when there's no agenda (such as regarding them as potential customers, clients, or program participants); no deadline for filling a program, conference, or volunteer position; or no time constraint for the conversation.
When I was young (and this may still be true), I was incredibly shy about talking to people I didn't know. But, if the person was somehow connected to or introduced through one of my siblings, I was immediately open, playful, and enthusiastic; they received the full dose of the real "me." As my sister has remarked, "You bring a different kind of energy!" What I now realize is John Maxwell's communication practice, "Connectors Connect on Common Ground," from his book, "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect," was at work, lending comfort and familiarity even if the person and I had never before met.
A number of months ago, I met Georgiana Kovell, founder of Millions of Women Strong (MOWS), a group for female business owners and entrepreneurs who strive to achieve success on their terms through networking, collaboration, and relationship building. After speaking with Georgiana for 15 minutes, I was ready to sign up no matter what she was leading or teaching. Why was that? Georgiana, whether consciously or not, utilized many of the principles and practices of John Maxwell's book. She asked me about me and, in the short conversation, provided me with value. Her message about the MOWS mission was simple and inspiring.
One of the first things I learned from MOWS' group members was no-one likes to be sold to. Rather, we should strive to connect with people, to be more interested in the person we're talking to than ourselves. "Connecting Is All About Others" is the second principle in John Maxwell's book. Connection organically expands both our networks, leading to cooperation and collaboration, lifting us all. What I've also learned is that communicators initiate. We don't wait for others to approach us. We walk up first. We call first. We reach out first. After almost two years of Covid-19, we may be surprised to realize how hesitant we may be to do anything beyond a dm or text! And who even has phone numbers for anyone they've met in the last eighteen months?
We may also think communication is no problem for us, that we articulate our thoughts clearly in written and verbal forms. How many of you believe you've clearly stated information, a vision, or instructions, only to discover by the other person's response or actions that what was heard, inferred, or understood was not at all what you intended? What went wrong? Where was the disconnect?
If you'd like to talk about communication and a program I provide with principles and practices for 'communication that connects' with an individual, a small group, or a large audience, message me and we'll set up a virtual coffee to talk: https://calendly.com/camino-coaching-consulting/30-minute-coffee
If "Office Space" resonates strongly for you...
If you are eternally calm, cool, and collected, then this post is not for you. But, if you’ve ever been a parent or, like Peter in “Office Space,” who had more than his fill of bosses and needed Milt to turn down the radio just a bit, just for today, then this post may help.
Is your organization ready for a culture that values the whole person?
What transforms when we "go to work"? What changes, adaptations, compromises do we unconsciously make? What expectations of others do we bring with us? Which aspects of ourselves do we leave behind? Why is this and does it have to be this way?
I wonder how many of us unknowingly compartmentalize ourselves and others. On our own time, we may play music, sculpt, or write stories. We may compete at sports, renovate houses, or tend a garden. At one time, we may have studied sociology or history. Yet, when we come to work, we leave much behind as either something we do at home, with friends, as a hobby, or something we did or pursued back then at school. We think, "Oh well," (for the talents, hobbies, or passions), "I need a job." Many of us think of a job as something separate from the rest of our lives, even when the job holds meaning for us. But, does it have to be that way and is it best for the individual or the business?
What if "work" could became a place of expansion, a place where the whole person is embraced, where passions and interests are nurtured and expressed, and not just skills? I'm not saying businesses should set up a dedicated area for arts and crafts (though I'm not saying not to), but I am suggesting the creative mindset or cross-disciplinary knowledge or approach be invited into the room. What better natural source for innovation and creative thinking?
When we value the entire person, when we find the connections between passions and profession, there may be a higher likelihood that the whole person will show up and contribute! The more fully we are able to step into and express who we truly are without fear, the happier and more fulfilled we become, and the more positive and productive the workplace becomes. We feel safer to express thoughts and ideas that can lead to unexpected paths and solutions.
What could this look like? Imagine a team member who is also an avid gardener. How often have we spoken of "planting a seed" or "nurturing the sapling for a tree we may never see"? What other wisdom could this member contribute from their knowledge of soil mixture or plant diversity, not to mention the planning, patience, and dedication required to create a garden?
Each person, whether or not they have a hobby, skill, or area of study, can contribute a unique perspective, if the soil is fertile, i.e., if the environment is one of safety, acceptance, and valuing the entirety of the person. The question is, are you willing to create that environment?
Is your organizational culture like the North Wind or the Sun?
When my siblings and I were young, my father often instructed us to never force anything mechanical. If the equipment didn’t work, our first act was to check if the plug was securely in the outlet. Otherwise, if the parts didn’t fit or properly close, we were to experiment and find another way for the pieces to align.
This principle is echoed in the story of the North Wind and the Sun, each trying to prove which is stronger; the pawn of the contest, an unsuspecting man in an overcoat. The North Wind takes its turn blowing with all its might to force the coat off the man. Of course, with each wintry blast, the man clutches his coat ever tighter. When the North Wind’s breath is spent, the Sun warms, casting its soothing rays. As beads of perspiration appear on the man’s brow and upper lip, he easily and almost unconsciously slides the coat from his shoulders, illustrating that coaxing warmth is a more effective persuader than brute, cold force.
When we become managers or join the C-suite, we are looked to as leaders. Our title alone grants us an initial period of compliance. Whether or not that compliance is maintained and transformed into respect, trust, motivated dedication, and loyalty will depend on our character and integrity. It will also depend on how much we truly care about and interact with our employees. Do we see them as whole human beings with personal and professional values or as the skills we hired them for?
Recently, James Crenshaw, MBA, CFCM, NIGP-CPP, CPPO, Office of Contracts, 1st Vice-President at Government of the District of Columbia, introduced me to the term “professional personalism.” Department staff gather each week to share personal interests, what they did over the weekend, which TV shows they watch, which books they are reading. How many leaders take intentional time to talk with their employees, find out about their lives, and encourage their interests and professional development? How many make their employees feel more like cogs in the wheel, pushing paper without knowing why, in an endless grind to get the work done?
No matter how seasoned an employee is, each entity has its own laws, rules, regulations, codes, ordinances, policies, and organizational culture. Will we act like the North Wind and plunge a new employee into the deep end of a reactive culture full of fires to put out? What signal, really, does it send when we besiege a new employee with an overladen pile of documents all due yesterday? Through lack of trust due to lack of training, will we then inflict a range of controls and force them to ask for multiple approvals?
We may plead we don’t have time, but will we make the time? Will we act like the Sun and coax our employees to empowerment, to take ownership and use professional judgment? Will we choose to welcome our new employee by acknowledging how valuable they are, how we look forward to their contributions, which we know they will make because of the training program we’ve designed to acclimate and prepare them for the work ahead? Will we proactively take action on the employee’s career growth (and the entity’s succession plan) by bringing the employee to directors’ meetings to show them the types of conversations taking place, discussions that involve more strategy than transaction?
If it’s difficult to recruit talent or if you’re experiencing high turnover, one aspect to consider is the working environment. Is it filled with fire extinguishers or training materials?
Our skills may make us eligible for the job or to be considered for the job, but they are not who we are.
SPOILER ALERT: If you have NOT yet watched Encanto, do not listen to this video!
Our skills may make us eligible for the job or to be considered for the job, but they are not who we are. Think about the employees in your organization. In addition to the specific job skills they use, what do you know about them, about their other strengths, skills, or interests?
Why? It's an inside job.
When a task force, team, department, business, or entity forms, they may begin by developing a strategic plan that includes mission, vision, and values statements. The mission states who they are and what they do; the vision paints a picture of what is to be achieved; and the values identify the "why," i.e., the purpose and driving force, what's most important.
I'd like to argue that values should be the starting point as they provide the motivation for your vision, i.e., what you wish to achieve, and the mission, i.e., who you are and how you realize your vision. When you start with values, you begin from the inside and build outward. You are better able to go the distance. Think of values as providing steady fuel for marathon runners versus incentives providing repeated rapid fire sparks that fuel sprinters who may or may not cross the finish line. Why bother exerting oneself if there is no carrot dangling to tease out the effort? Values become the sturdy foundation on which everything else is built. In a way, they serve as the compass for how you execute your mission. When all three, i.e., values, mission, vision, are aligned, so will the ensuing actions and decisions.
Values statements don't only belong in an entity's strategic plan. Knowing your "why" applies to personal and professional values as well as to the day-to-day functions of your organization. Each of us holds personal values and they remain with us when we begin our work day. We don't leave them at the door. An important exercise is to determine our personal values and list them beside those of the organization. Which values harmonize? Which conflict? If your most important personal value is family and being present to read to your children in the evening, yet the company you work for values staff working together on site until 11 PM each night, how will you resolve any conflicts to honor both your personal and professional values?
Values also play an essential role in the operations of your organization. When employees don't understand the value, the why, behind what they are learning or doing, they are reliant on and restricted to performing tasks rather than taking responsibility for projects. It's only when they understand the why behind the laws, forms, and functions that they can work independently, using professional judgment and creativity.
A couple of nights ago, I watched (again) the movie "Hidden Figures." In the movie, the protagonist is asked to "look beyond the numbers." I believe those that truly excel in their profession are those that look beyond the numbers, tools, tasks, skills, or mechanics. Certainly, those at the top of their profession proceed with integrity, obeying laws, regulations, rules; however, like great artists who understands their tools, but do not allow themselves to be limited by them, professionals, too, can see tools for what they are and transcend them for a greater purpose, whether that purpose is figuring out how to avoid the consequence of a late bid or exploring the Universe.
What are you doing to honor your values and transcend your tools?