Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom

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The Dog Ate My Business Plan

Dog Business PlanWhether you’re leading an organization or are part of a cross-functional team, working with people is like riding a rollercoaster.  Sometimes, you’re climbing in unison together, full of nervous energy as you anticipate the thrill of cresting that hill.  Other times, everything goes willy-nilly.  Some folks love the ride and want to go again.  Some are scared but heading in the same direction.  Others just want off the ride as soon as possible.  They may say that they didn’t want to go on the ride in the first place… that someone else “made them do it.”

It reminds me of the old “dog ate my homework” excuse.  At some point, I’m sure almost everyone has dropped the ball on something.  We’re all human, after all.  No one is perfect.  But here, people diverge.  Some people own up to the mistake, take responsibility and let you know how they will to do better next time.  They have a plan and a direction.

Others take a different approach.  It’s painful to admit you made a mistake or let someone down.  So instead, they take the path of least pain.  They come up with an excuse.

  1. “The e-mail didn’t make it through… darn internet!” 
  2. “The cell phone doesn’t get good reception, and I missed the call.  Darn phone company!”
  3. “Traffic was awful , and it made me late.  Darn 405 freeway!”
  4. The dog ate my business plan!”


Maybe the e-mail or call really didn’t make it through.   Maybe traffic was a beast.  Maybe the dog has an affinity for paper products.  So what?  Your client doesn’t care.  It isn’t their problem.  It’s yours. People make excuses for so many reasons.  They may want to let someone down easy or don’t want to let anyone down at all.  They don’t want to get in trouble or may want to save face.  Maybe the excuses are true.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
Making excuses is the path of least pain.  It’s the easy way.  But how are you ever going to win trust, build real relationships or achieve great success if you are always taking the easy way out?  It takes a lot more determination and bravery of heart, soul and spirit to choose the harder path.  On that road, there are no excuses, just accountability.  There is no hiding, but instead you’re taking the lead.  You own your mistakes and also your future success.

The happiest and most successful people in the world have no need for excuses.  If they mess up, they own it, apologize and do it better next time and again and again… until there is no need for excuses.

Until they win.
Until they’re celebrating the thrill of the ride.

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Under Your Skin

grassy-hillI had an unusual meeting last week.  One of our clients has assigned a new point person to our relationship, so we met to lay the foundation for the future.  We also met to reconnect on the past, as Kevin was our point person about 6 or 7 years ago when we first forged the partnership.  Years pass quickly at times, so I was happy to be working with him again and looking forward to catching up.

Our meeting started out on business, but as we got further into it, we found ourselves talking about the ups and downs of life.  Now, this is not the first time that I’ve had a conversation like this while on the road.  This felt different though.  As we talked about the vagaries of life, some of the lightness made way for a more direct connection.  And the question arose… Are you happy in your own skin?
When your career is new, that question is easier to answer.  You feel that you know who you are and where you are going.  Here, in the mid-section of life, it gets a little harder to find that answer.  It doesn’t matter how happy you are with who you are or how you’re rising in your job or responsibilities.  You’re in the middle – somewhere between here and there – and cresting a hill.  The end of your career is a little closer than your beginning.  You may be looking back at the dreams or desires you had way back when, and wondering what you did with them.  Did you take a detour?  Did you achieve those young dreams and are now looking for a new one?  Maybe you’re feeling restless, bored or stifled and don’t know what to make of it.
It’s tempting to lean towards frustration if you’re drifting a little, to feel uncomfortable in your own skin as you’re searching for the next step in the evolution of you.  But don’t question who you are just because you may be questioning where you’re going or your circumstances.  Now more than ever, you should accept yourself.  Heck, celebrate it!  It’s okay to be frustrated, uncomfortable or searching.  In fact, it’s great.  It means you’re not settling for something.  Instead, you’re expanding, learning, growing and becoming something more.   Being uncomfortable is a good thing.  Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  The nerves, the hunger, the yearning…. It drives you forward.

Yes, Kevin.  I’m nervous, excited, frustrated, searching and perfectly happy in my own skin, in my own discomfort.

In fact, I love it.
I’m on a journey.  How about you?

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Expect the Unexpected

AirportMe at the Airport

It’s a common saying, and we’ve all heard it. Expect the unexpected.  Be prepared.  I’m getting a vivid illustration of the importance of this phrase today.

I’m stranded with thousands of my friends at the Portland International Airport.  Somehow, the planes have no fuel.  Whether it’s due to a power outage from last night’s rain or not, every plane is stranded – along with thousands of people here in the terminal and hundreds stuck on planes on the tarmac.  The machine that supplies the fuel for all of the airlines is out.  The Starbucks line is almost a hundred deep, and I am laying on the floor and pondering business.

I don’t really think this is a failure of technology.  Instead, it is a human failure.    Yes, it may be hard to predict that this exact situation could have happened, but that’s a part of leadership.  It’s not only about looking future forward, but also about planning thoroughly for today.  Goals and aspirations are great, but if something unexpected happens that closes your business or worse, you aren’t going to achieve that goal.

You cannot predict what each day will bring.  What you can do is take a look at the critical dependencies in your business – employees, capital, market conditions, fuel for airplanes – and plan around protecting those.

That didn’t happen for the Portland Airport.  This is a failure of leadership, not technology.  Don’t let it happen to your business.

P.S.  Also, for the one flight that did make it out this morning… Always best not to announce that they are going to send you out to Oakland and “hope” that there is enough fuel to make it.  Another failure of leadership.  Leaders need to instill confidence in those they want to lead – not “hope” to lead. Funny day!

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Looking for More

GraduationThis morning, my son graduated from Pre-K.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  After all, they’re not taking the AP test, moving to another state or something as exciting (or gut wrenching) as that.  I knew it would be cute.  I didn’t know how deeply it would affect me though.

So, there we all were: parents, grandparents and friends – crowded into a small classroom, sitting on kiddie chairs that strained themselves to support us, smart phones ready to snap a cherished memory.  Out march all of the little ones in matching school pride shirts, wearing crowns that they colored before we got there.  The music comes on, and they mime their way through the beginning of a song looking mildly dazed.  Then, their teacher smiles and asks them to sing.  My son – never one to be shy – starts belting out the tune at the top of his lungs.  Evan joins in.  Then Paige.  Then 22 little voices raise together, singing:

“I don’t want this day to end.  We will be happy together tomorrow.  Together tomorrow, my friend.  Tonight when I’m sleeping, I’ll dream of us being together tomorrow, my friend.”

Certificates, ribbons and photos of a year gone by too soon were given to each little one as they smiled for a hundred pictures, their eyes beaming with pride.  Then, they ran off for a few hours of fun, splashing and cupcakes.

Who knew that a Pre-K graduation could mean so much?

While many of these kids will be together in the Fall, some friends are moving on to new schools and new experiences.  That moment – that magic – will never BE again.  Instead, there will be new moments and new magic.  Today will be forgotten by all of the children.  They’ll look at the pictures and the video, and marvel at how little they were.  They may forget their friends’ names, no matter how much they love them today.  How many of your friends do you still have from pre-school, after all?

But the parents will remember.  We will never forget.  The joy on my son’s face, the innocence of those voices.  It’s burned through my skin and onto my heart.  I am teary-eyed thinking of it now. It is a visceral thing, much deeper than the personal accomplishments I may have achieved in my life.

It’s a funny thing too. When you do something big or achieve something yourself, you feel excited, proud and fulfilled.  It’s awesome.  When your child or someone you have mentored with your heart and soul achieves a milestone, it’s something more.  I don’t have a word that captures the feeling I have inside.  It’s just more. And the kids are right.  I don’t want this day to end either.

Whether it’s your child, your friend, your spouse, your team member or your employees that you are mentoring, keep going.  More is great.  More is awesome. It’s better than awesome.  It’s bigger.  More is just…. MORE.

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A Million Lives

Serving those who serve our Country

Serving those who serve our Country

Yesterday, I had the honor of awarding a $3,000 grant to  Operation Gratitude on behalf of our Company.  The charity annually sends over 100,000 care packages addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions, to their children left behind and to Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors and their Care Givers.  While I had heard of the non-profit before, the time I spent onsite was eye-opening.

The operation was truly impressive.   It’s summer time here in the Valley, which means it is brutally hot.  The warehouse we walked into was equally as blistering, but you would never have known it from the smiles on everyone’s faces and the amazing energy they had as they packed box after box for our troops overseas.  I got in line to help, and packed items in tight: sunscreen, Girl Scout cookies, toothpaste and handwritten letters of love and support.  And as I filled boxes with care, I learned the story behind it all.

After 9/11, the founder – a woman who was only a few years older in 2001 than I am today – wanted to do something to help our Country.  She tried to enlist in the armed services and was told she didn’t qualify, but that was not going to stop her from showing how much she cared.  It started in her living room when she filled four small boxes with items to send to some of her friends’ relatives overseas.  Today, Operation Gratitude is approaching the 1,000,000th package sent.  Wow.

Even more “wow” is the statement this makes about how much one person can change the world.  So often, we go to work or go through the motions in a day.  We may feel small, unappreciated or like we don’t matter.  We may feel lost or useless and wonder why we are here.  But every life has meaning to someone.  Your life has meaning to someone.  Your life has meaning to many, actually.  You can put a smile on someone’s face, bring lightness to their heart and give them strength in a time of weakness.  You are powerful beyond measure, if you choose to believe in yourself and to take action.

Believe that you can change the world and you will.

How will you change the world today?

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Danny Kaye and Thoughts for Today

How do you measure up?

How do you measure up?

How many of you remember KTLA’s “Family Film Festival”?  Every weekend, Channel 5 in Los Angeles would show all of these wonderful old movies.  Tom Hatten would introduce kids to classic movies starring comedic geniuses such as Jerry and Dean, and Bob and Bing.  I loved them all, but Danny Kaye was always my favorite.  I loved his unassuming manner, his brilliant timing and his gentle spirit.  I particularly remember when he sang “Inchworm” in 1952’s Hans Christian Andersen.

“Inchworm, inchworm – measuring the marigold.  You and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far.  Inchworm, inchworm – measuring the marigold.  Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.”

Today was a funny kind of day.  Little problems seemed to pop up here, there and everywhere.  Little opportunities are right on the horizon as well, and just can’t get here fast enough for me.  And through it all, that song was running through my head.  I had not thought about it in years, yet it was all I could think about today.
It’s human nature to get caught up in the little things of today.  Complaints may get you down.  You spend your day analyzing what you could have done better or how you “failed”.  You’re “measuring the marigold” inch by inch.
Perhaps the only thing you really “failed” at was seeing the bigger picture – seeing how “beautiful they are”.  Before you head into your weekend, I just want to remind you how beautiful YOU really are.  When you believe in something with all of your soul and are passionate about it, that’s a thing of beauty.  You leave your footprint on your company, on this earth and on lives of the people you touch – every time you lend a helping hand.  You create miracles.  Don’t let the little things get you down. Be great at the basics, and create your legacy.
I’d like to thank a friend of mine or sharing the following with me.  I’m not sure how far these words have traveled or who actually wrote them, but I’m glad they came my way as they resonated with me.  Enjoy.  And please remember, many people are eternally grateful for you.

By default or design, every one of us is going to leave a legacy. It just depends on what kind. So what kind of legacy do you want to leave? Clarity helps you decide how to live and work today, and how you spend your time. Consider the following and then focus on what matters most to you…

1. A Legacy of Excellence – To leave a legacy of excellence, strive to be your best every day. As you strive for excellence, you inspire excellence in others. You serve as a role model for your children, your friends and your colleagues. One person in pursuit of excellence raises the standards and behaviors of everyone around them. You only have one life to give, and there is only one you.  Give all you can.

2. A Legacy of Encouragement – You have a choice. You can lift others up or bring them down. Twenty years from now when people think of you, what do you want them to remember? The way you encouraged them or discouraged them?  Who will you encourage today? Be that person that someone will call five, ten or twenty years from now and say “Thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

3. A Legacy of Purpose – People are most energized when they are using their strengths and talents for a purpose beyond themselves. To leave a legacy of purpose, make your life about something bigger than you – something greater than yourself.  While you’re not going to live forever, you will live on in the positive impact you make in the world.

4. A Legacy of Love – Life is not just about achievement. Sometimes it is just about the power to love. Share a legacy of love and it will embrace generations to come.

5. A Legacy of __________________.

What’s yours going to be??”

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Score 1 for the Other Team

Ever had one of those days?

Ever had one of those days?

So, sometimes no matter how hard you try, you still have one of those days.  Perhaps you lose a teammate – a valuable one. Maybe you lose a sale – one you have been working on for a while. Maybe you lose a client – one that you have moved Heaven and earth to keep happy – to someone offering a lower price, fancy new bells and whistles, the latest whatever it may be.  You rallied the troops around that teammate/sale/client, and you still lost.  How do you react?  Are you angry?  Frustrated?  Off your game?

I would ask two questions in a situation like this.
1.  How strong was your relationship?
2.  How well were you listening?
What do you think about when you think about the important relationships in your life?  Can you picture the laughter, the way that person makes you feel when you are around them, the shared memories?  Those are important parts of a relationship, true.  But how many of those relationships have come and gone? What is different about the ones that have lasted years?  One key difference is probably in the amount of hard work you’ve put into it – the ongoing attention you pay to that special person.  Let’s face it.  Some of the most important, maybe even most transformative, relationships you’ve ever had are long gone. The best friend, the first love.  We’ve all done it.  Perhaps we chalk it up to “outgrowing” it, we “learned what we were supposed to learn” and are better people.  That’s great.  But maybe it wasn’t just a phase.  Maybe we didn’t pay enough attention, took that person for granted, or allowed too many excuses to get in the way of getting outside of our box.  Getting uncomfortable.  Getting vulnerable. Getting real.  Maybe our relationship wasn’t as deep as we really thought it was.  After all, if you really get down to the heart of any relationship and bust your buns to stay there, you can feel if something is drifting out of focus.  You’re working with your head and your heart.
Then, there is the listening part of it.  In any sales environment, we know we should be listening more than we speak. That’s a given.  But what about those later stages of your relationship?  When you’ve worked with a client for a long time, it’s natural that you get to know them.  You care for their welfare and have a personal stake in their success.  And once you have celebrated success, signed the client and developed that personal stake in it, there’s a danger of becoming too familiar… “Knowing” too much.  You assume the next sale. You may talk too much because you are so comfortable, and you forget to listen.  Needs change.  If you are actively listening, always asking questions, keeping that relationship “new”, always working at it, then you’ll hear those cues that perhaps something isn’t quite right.  It’s hard to hear those hints over the sound of your own voice though.  It’s easy when you’re quiet… when you listen.
Even when you do your absolute best, you still will lose one here and there.  But don’t forget to ask yourself if you really were doing your best after all.  And on those days when you do lose one, remember to be grateful for everything in the win column.  Now, make sure they stay there

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Making the Choice

My gift to you...

My gift to you…

Every now and again, I hear from a certain old acquaintance of mine.  Now, I’m someone who tends to maintain long relationships (you should see my Holiday card list – it’s a major undertaking), so I’m always glad when the phone rings or that email comes through.  I look forward to hearing all of the great things that have happened in this person’s life.  But over the last few years, it seems the great things are few and far between.  It’s more of a venting session these days, to be frank.  There’s a lot of negativity about work, who did what to who or whatever.  It’s the same on the news, in Congress, on the radio.  There’s lots of vitriol here and there, and for this friend, very little personal accountability.  I don’t get frustrated when he’s upset, especially when that’s all that we hear day in and day out in this hyper-polarized world we live in.  But it sure can bring you down.

Other people say that you should only surround yourself with people that inspire you – that you are the sum of the five people you hold dearest.  There’s a lot of truth to that.  But I think reality makes that hard to maintain, and I want to work hard to lift people up as much as I can.
So, if you’re feeling put upon, misunderstood or angry about work or the world we live in, I want to share with you a gift that someone gave me a long time ago.  I was burning the midnight oil every day back then, working very hard and wasn’t feeling too appreciated.  And something inside me clicked.
Yes, you’re working hard.  As you become accountable for your own life and your own future, you become more passionate to succeed.  And you will work harder because you want to, because it becomes fun, because you are building or living your dream.  Some of you will embrace this challenge.  Some of you may feel overwhelmed or look to another to bear a part of your load.  But you can’t guarantee anyone else will.  You need to operate at your full potential to be successful, and you can do so if you accept the same gift that I offer you today: responsibility.
Being Responsible is a choice.  If you are going to serve others and create something truly remarkable, you need to make the choice to accept your responsibility as a fully committed and accountable leader.  Each one of us is a leader.  And being a leader begins with the willingness to be responsible.  Leadership is characterized by responsibility.
Once you accept that challenge and make your choice, there are two ways things may go.  First, if all goes well, taking responsibility ends with praise.  You make the sale, you get the job, you live the dream.  Second, if something goes wrong, taking responsibility means being held accountable for your actions.  Someone complains, your manager is unhappy or your career isn’t where you want it to be?  Is it someone else’s fault?   Maybe to a degree.  They played a small part, but you certainly did as well.  In fact, your part was probably pretty darn big.  After all, you are the only constant player in your life.  What can you do to empower yourself today and change things?  Be accountable.  Be responsible.  Stop dwelling on what’s wrong, figure out what’s right and focus your energy and willpower there instead.
It’s not always comfortable being a leader.  Sometimes, it’s downright tough when you are called to task.  But you need to go for it.  You will always have a lot on your plate.  Step up, take the risk and be accountable.  Many people “accept” responsibility, and that’s okay.  It’s reactive, but it’s not leading.
You need to take responsibility.  That’s when you become a leader.  When you take responsibility for something, you own it.  You’re personally invested in the outcome.  You own it from beginning to end.  You reach out for help to make sure things work out, and you’re not afraid to speak up if you need help.
Be a leader.  Take the risk, and make your choice.
Someone gave me this gift a long time ago.  Now, it’s my gift to you.

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All Ships Rise

Ship_Rough_SeasI recently had the opportunity to hear Kim Malek, one of the founders of Salt & Straw, speak at a conference.  If you have not heard of Salt & Straw, it’s a gourmet “farm to cone” ice cream company from the Pacific Northwest.  If you have not tasted their ice cream, put it on the Bucket List now.  It’s worth it.

And while the ice cream is fantastic, her story is even better.  Kim followed a dream – one that she had held for well over a decade before it came true.  As she shared her journey of making a dream become a reality, she also spoke of the tough things that got in her way, of taking great risks and how hard it was for her to keep moving forward in the tough times.  Her motto, when the days were at their darkest, was “all ships rise.”

Lately, a lot of friends have had extremely tough times financially, professionally and personally.  Friends have lost fathers and children.  People have lost their homes or jobs, and others soon will too.  I’m not sure why right now.  I just know that it is.

We all have our struggles, some more than others.  Being on the outside of it, you try to help when asked, and you hurt silently along with them too.  Walking through those woods, it is difficult to see a path through it.  You can become discouraged, depressed and destructive.  But just as the tides change and ships eventually rise, yours will too. How quickly will it rise?  That’s up to you.  It starts with your frame of mind.

One of my friends has had more than enough heartache; in fact, I think she’s dealt with more in her 30-some years than most people will in their lifetime.  She has had health issues, family issues, relationship issues, money issues, lost parents, lived without power and running water while working full time and caring for kids… you name it.  But if you met her, you would never know it.  In fact, I have never seen her without a smile on her face.  She is one of the most uplifting people I’ve been honored to know.  She never complains, but instead keeps marching onward – living her life for others.  She is the first to lend a hand or a heart.  I’ve often referred to her as a living angel, and I think she is.  I aspire to have the spirit, the generosity, the wisdom that she has.

During a particularly bad time for her years ago – when I was also walking along a dark road emotionally – I asked her what her secret was.  She told me that she had faith that things would get better and believed it would, that she was grateful for what she was going through as she would be stronger for it, and that “all ships rise.”

What an odd circle.  I heard this many years ago and again last week.

Seasons keep changing, but the tide always rises.  It was a good reminder to believe, to dream and to persevere – no matter what challenge you may be facing today.
Your ship will rise too.