Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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Building Bridges

Bay Bridge WowI was recently in San Francisco and was fascinated by the new Bay Bridge.

Now, I’ve crossed the old bridge many times.  It did what it was supposed to do – get me from here to there.  This new bridge didn’t seem like anything remarkable; in fact, I barely noticed the change at all… until late in the evening.  As I looked out the window of my hotel, I saw it… the lights.  They were glorious.  I was struck by how dynamic that bridge was: functional and beautiful.  It made an impact.  So I went online to learn a little more.  Now, it still goes from here to there, but did you know that this “epic transformation… into a global icon” does a few other cool things too?

  • It holds two Guinness world records (not the beer, though that may be almost as cool in certain circles);
  • It took six years to complete;
  • It is built to withstand major earthquakes and is, in fact, a lifeline route;
  • It offers panoramic views of the city; and
  • For the first time, it meets the needs of many with pedestrian and bike lanes.

It got me thinking about work.

When you’re new to an organization or are working with a team or client, you’re constantly building connections and forging relationships to “get you from here to there.”  We’re building bridges.

Everyone has their own style.  Each team has its own dynamic.  Each project has its own deadline.  Oftentimes, we are so caught up in “our” style, the dynamics of the team as they exist today (or did in the past) and the deadline that we don’t pay as much attention as we should to those bridges we’re building.

Yes, those bridges – those relationships – are functional.  They help us learn the ropes, motivate the team or achieve the goal.  But a bridge is much more than that.  It’s our connection from the past to the future, from where we were to where we want to be.  It’s a place we will turn to again and again… a place that will be familiar and somehow new.

Like a bridge, a relationship can be functional and fun.  It’s dynamic.  It can:

  • Set records;
  • Span years;
  • Save your life;
  • Be a great adventure; and
  • Help people meet many needs.

That will only happen though, if you invest as much (if not more) time, focus and care into building lasting relationships as you do in the short term projects and personal objectives.  And frankly, I believe your style in leadership and teamwork is pretty darn important too.  Your teammates will get things done when focused on a goal.  How many of those people will be there – years later – if you don’t invest in them as well?  How many people will be there if they don’t feel respected?  Don’t feel valued?

At the heart of each of us, we want to feel loved – feel appreciated – feel valued.  We want to have a meaningful impact on the lives of those we touch and the things we are working to achieve.  We want to know that other people care.  We want to build deep, real relationships: not with people who ask passing questions and forget your answers, but instead with those who invest their lives in seeing you succeed and thrive, professionally and personally.

Yes, bridges and relationships can be built that get you from here to there.  How solid are those bridges though?  Are you sure they will stand the test of time?  Or are there warning signs that you may be ignoring?

In my quest to learn more for this piece, I read about the Quebec Bridge.  It was an engineering marvel, but there were warning signs along the way that were ignored.  It didn’t end well, collapsing in 1907 and costing lives.  It could have been avoided.  The problems could have been corrected.  It could have dazzled.  It didn’t.

What bridges are you building today?  Are they strong?  Can you do more?

What bridges did you build years ago?  Are you maintaining them?  Will they be more?

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Genetics in Action

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Do you have a scar? I do. It slices through my left eyebrow – a leftover of a time I bulldozed my poor brother into playing a game that was downright dumb. I got my payback: a concussion and 36 stitches to mend skin and muscle. It’s subtle now, but if I lift my bangs, it’s still there.

What about a scar you can’t see? Where is yours? We all have them… something we did, something done to us or something passed down by people who were once as innocent as we were when we were kids.

I’m one of too many kids to count. Both of my parents worked hard to provide for the family, especially Dad. He is a doctor, and pulled a lot of overnighters. It was pretty common for us not to see him at all from Monday through Friday, with weekends being our special time. Now, kids compete for attention from their parents as it is. When time is limited though, that competition gets especially fierce. Everyone picks a “role,” digs in and tries to out-do everyone else.

For me, I was going to be the “perfect” child. I was going to get excellent grades, be a massive overachiever, win every award and never get in trouble. That’s a lot to aspire to when you are 10 years old. Plus, my dad is a genius, so you’re trying to live up to that as well. I worked hard and did pretty well, but it came with consequences. Since I was always striving for perfection, which is frankly unachievable, nothing I did was ever quite good enough. So I took on more and more, and lived in that constant cycle of fear that I was letting someone down. I was not good enough. Now, you can’t see this scar, but it’s long, deep and self-inflicted.

When I first started my career, I packed those bags and took them along with me. In the arts, there was always a better singer, a better dancer, a better anything. And as I transitioned into business and began to rise through the ranks, I continued to take on more and more… making myself “indispensable” because it was just easier for me to handle something. That way, it would be “right” the first time. It would be as close to “perfect” as I could get it.

That’s a recipe for unhappiness though. You become completely overloaded, overwhelmed and stressed out. Nothing is ever good enough, and you can’t truly move on in life because you haven’t fully invested in someone. You haven’t trusted someone enough to learn to let go.

While the quest to create something truly great is admirable, perfectionism comes down to issues of trust and control. You have to learn how to trust someone enough to let go of the reins and release control, providing guidance so they too have the opportunity to learn and evolve. It’s a basic tenet of leadership, and probably the hardest lesson I continue to learn every day. I’m getting a lot better, but there’s always another mountain to climb.

I’m a parent now, and my kids are great. But here’s where the genetics kick in. While my oldest son looks like my husband, his personality is all me. He is quirky, inquisitive and wants to try everything. He also has a major perfectionistic streak… one that already causes him undue stress at the age of 5. While there are many things I want to pass down to him, this is not one of them. I want to set him free as I work to do every day in my professional life. I want him to know that our imperfections are what makes each of us so special… So perfect. He may have a scar on the outside, on his chin, but I don’t want him to carry the scars inside that so many of us already have today.

What scars are your carrying around inside? What will you do today to help them fade away?

 

For the cool weekly writing challenge, check this out: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/writing-challenge-dna/


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Fighting the Chompys

Teamwork...

Teamwork…

If you have kids, I’m pretty sure you know who the “Chompys” are.  For those of you who are fortunate enough not to know, they are the baddies from the massively popular video game, Skylanders.  Disclaimer here: I am neither a Skylanders fan nor a video game fan, but I’m outnumbered by the men in the house who think games are pretty cool.  Deciding to choose my battles wisely, I caved on this one and allowed games into the house… but with rules attached. You can play on the weekends only, for no more than an hour and only if you behave nicely while you do it.The rules have been working pretty well, until this past weekend.  The boys found themselves exploring a new section of Skylanders and found a “chompy pit.”  Think Gladiator-lite: you battle these cartoon thingys and do it as a team.  Well, Boy #1 charged into the chompy pit using his super belch (not kidding) to drive the chompys away.  Boy #2 had another idea.  He was not up for the grand battle, but instead wanted to find jewels, move rocks and do other smaller tasks… earning more life force and strengthening his player.  But Skylanders is clever.  The game warns you when you are too far from the other player, and eventually if you don’t head in the same direction, you just get stuck: pulling against each other and going nowhere.  The volume in the house went up, and everything descended into madness.  General Mom declares the game is over, and now both boys are wailing over the lost opportunity.

Watching them face the chompys reminded me of teams in the work place.  Like many of you, I’ve been fortunate to work with passionate, goal driven people who want to make a difference in the world.  We have our eyes on the same goal.  We just have different ideas about what path to take to get there.

So everyone knows the corporate goal.  They’re fired up and onboard.  But what’s the best way to get there?  When you have a lot of talent in the room, finding consensus on the tactics or the path can be tough.  There are a lot of great tried and true ideas that are proven.  You know that they work, that they generate results and the team knows how to execute them.  Just like Boy # 1 who charged straight into the fray using the moves (ye olde super belch) he knew worked, the team can achieve its goal.

There are also new ways to get to your goal, new technology, new metrics.  Perhaps they’re unexplored or undefined.  They’ve worked elsewhere and may work for you, and you want to understand and test them, taking your time to plan, prepare and then execute.  So you do A/B testing, focus groups and research.  You’re finding more jewels, earning more life force and strengthening the plan, preparing yourself and then getting to the goal.

Now, your smart, passionate team is struggling internally.  Some head one way, wanting to stick with what’s known.  Others want to prepare.  And the entire team gets stuck, pulling against each other and not marching towards the goal.  So what’s the better way?  Rely on the way we’ve always done it?  Or go Blue Ocean, monitor, measure and then move forward?

Neither.  Both plans work.  It’s not about how you get there, but instead it’s about building consensus and doing it as a team.  As leaders, it’s our job to bring people together, to foster collaboration and open communication, to paint a compelling vision and then find a win-win solution that everyone buys into and commits wholeheartedly to.  Great ideas will come from a great group of people.  A leader demonstrates how the great ideas fit into the goal, and then helps the team focus and prioritize so they make the right decision each time.

So back to the Skylanders.  After my “Command and Control” leadership debacle, we decided to try again the next weekend.  Boys 1 & 2 came to battle again.  We paused the game, talked about what came next with me guiding the discussion, and they agreed on the way to win that was right for them.  Score 1 for the boys.

How will you help your team fight the Chompys?

P.S.  Major respect to any of you that can tell me which character in the picture has the Super Belch.  It is pretty effective!


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A Boy and A Blue Balloon

Close up of a blue balloonThis morning, I had the honor to be a small part of something special.

After rolling out of bed before the sun came up, I was pretty tired.  So were the hundred or so fellow travelers I shared Southwest Airlines Flight #150 with this morning on the way to Sacramento.   Engrossed in our smartphones, on auto pilot, we picked up our bags and began to exit the plane.  That’s where the magic began.

As I stepped out the door and onto the jetway, I glanced up and saw a blue balloon taped to the wall.  Odd, but not remarkable.   Then, there was another.  And another.  In fact, the jetway walls were lined with bright blue balloons – far too many to count.  Confused, I stopped.  So did everyone else. I heard our flight attendant bristling with excitement, lining up the pilots and prepping them for photos and the surprise.  And there, nestled amongst it all was a sign – “We’re honored to help!  Yay, Mason!”  As my dazed companions and I got moving again, I was struck by the bright smiles on the faces of the flight attendants, the crew, the passengers… and me.

I have no clue who Mason is.  I don’t know his story.  I overheard that he was headed to Orlando, so I think he is a child, but why is he going there? What made this trip so special that a team pulled together to create a thing of such joy for him, for themselves and for all of us who were brief witnesses to the moment?

The background of his story may be bright or perhaps tragic.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.  What hit home for me is how someone on that flight crew cared deeply about someone they barely knew, had an idea and led others with love.

The notion of love in leadership may be controversial.  As we build our careers, we focus on learning the ropes, connecting the dots, generating the ROI and building a great strategic plan.  Those are all necessary components to any great business.  But where is the love?  Where is the emotional connection that is so fierce, so deep and so passionate that it leads you to chase dreams, move mountains and inspires others to follow?  Data, metrics and business plans provide a framework for any good enterprise.  Companies and leaders become great though when they inspire people to believe, to get uncomfortable, to go out on a limb and to give.  We have to take that risk and bring love into the equation.  It’s love for the company, it’s culture, it’s team and its customers.     It’s spending the time to get to know someone else’s dreams, what they want to achieve, and then committing full force… being there to help them achieve that dream.  It’s investing in what’s in it for someone else.  It reaps greater rewards for the giver than you can ever accrue for.  Even more, it reaps rewards for your team as they invest emotionally.  They go father, reach higher, work harder and smile wider.  They’ve shared the joy.

I still don’t know Mason and his story.  I think it’s better that way.  What I do know is that Mason was a king this morning, and whatever mountain he may need to climb, he is stronger today and has a hundred strangers cheering him on from the sidelines.  I’m among them.

Traveling on business has its perks.  Frequent flier programs can get you a window over an aisle, free wifi and sometimes, a front row seat to greatness.

How can you lead your life with love today?  Who will be your Mason?


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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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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.
“5 WAYS TO LEAVE A LEGACY”

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