Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom

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Discourse at Dinnertime

You didn't use your manners, Mom!

You didn’t use your manners, Mom!

As often as possible, we have dinner together as a family.  I’ve heard the same studies that you’ve heard about the importance of those nights: how there is a correlation between eating meals as a family to better emotional well-being, higher grades, better eating habits, lower obesity and lower risk of dependence on drugs and alcohol for the children as they grow.  So, every night we gather around the table to spend time together, share stories about our day and to practice our “attitude of gratitude.”  I have noticed recently that, while family dinner is healthy for the boys, it wasn’t feeling so great for me.

Now, my sons are 5 and 3.  They are wonderful kids and are wholly committed to the “war for attention” that siblings engage in.  Dinner lately has been a loud, raucous event with the boys battling for the podium, not listening to each other (or Mom and Dad).  Mom and Dad then get loud, and now no one is listening.  With my nerves jangled, my head on the table and the kids in time out, Steve and I decided we needed a new plan.  Dinnertime now has new rules.

  • We take turns when we speak.
  • We raise our hand if we have something to add.
  • We don’t interrupt each other.  We listen.
  • We lower our voice if we are upset.  We don’t raise it.
  • If we ARE upset, we take 10 deep breaths before we speak, etc.

The “new” rules sound pretty basic, right?  They are just common sense, just polite manners.  Absolutely!  You’re right.  It’s easy.  In fact, the rules are so easy that we adults often forget to practice them.  We adults frequently ignore the rules on television, in chat rooms, on Facebook, in meetings, just about everywhere.  We’re talking on top of each other, calling each other names, not listening to others when they speak, not considering other opinions beyond our own… not modeling the basic manners that we expect our children to follow every day at home or in the classroom.

Our world continues to change, becoming more connected and yet more polarized.  We share every moment of every day, and it can bring people together.  It also can drive people farther apart, ruining relationships and encouraging behavior in ourselves that we would never tolerate from our children.   Time may change the way we communicate, but it doesn’t change the meaning of common decency, kindness and compassion.  Time doesn’t diminish the value of intelligent discourse, of sharing ideas or seeing things from another point of view.  We may not change our opinion, but that doesn’t mean someone else’s opinion isn’t equally as valid as the view that you may hold.

When you’re passionate, hurt or angry, it can be hard to slow down and listen someone else, and maybe still agree to disagree.  It’s difficult to disagree in a hushed tone, to let someone else finish their thought and then to really consider it before we rush to speak.  It’s much more respectful though, and a healthier way to resolve something.  We may not raise our hands as children do in school, but we certainly should hold ourselves to the same standards of respectful communication that we hold our children to.  Good manners and healthy communication shouldn’t be optional, regardless of whether it’s online, in a meeting or around the dinner table.

We expect it of our children.  We should demand it from ourselves.


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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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Pep Talk

Star players on Team Family

Star players on Team Family

So, I am out at the Automotive Leadership Roundtable thanks to a good friend and a lot of networking (more on that another day). I came out here to learn about business, my industry, how it’s changing and how to inspire people. And who could be a better opening speaker for us this morning than Jack Harbaugh – famous coach, but even more famous father. He sure gave me a lot to think about this morning for work. But I’m walking away a better mother today than I was yesterday because I heard him speak.

Coach Harbaugh spoke extensively about putting the team before everything else, and how all good business decisions have to make things better for the team. Otherwise, it’s just not worthwhile. He talked about the value of persistence, outworking everyone around you and attacking each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. He also reminded us that there are two teams that we need to focus on: the office and our family.

And the Coach hit hard when he said that “you cannot believe in yourself until you know someone believes in you”, that your children “have a right to know that you believe in them” and that you “shouldn’t coach-speak your kids.”

A few days ago, my boys were going bananas in the backseat of the car. I’d had a long and rough day, and I am not proud to admit that I snapped at them to be quiet. Luke apologized, and then Jake told him not to apologize, that “Mom won’t believe you.”

That hurt that evening, but not as much as it does today. That evening, I knew Jake said it because I tell him that “actions speak louder than words.” And often they do.

It hurts a lot more today because I am seeing the core of that statement instead of thinking about my action “lesson.” The core of that statement was that my son assumed that I did not believe in him or his brother.

That is so immensely far from the truth, as I think my kids are the greatest people on this earth – far better than I am. I tell Jake how great he is every day, how much I love him, how incredible he is. Yet, when it came right down to it that night, in the tough times for him, he did not think I believed in him. And I remember the beginning of the “actions speak louder than words” lesson. When he said I’m sorry the day before, I’d started with “I don’t really believe that… Actions yadda yadda yadda.” He had learned my “lesson.”

Man, I feel like dirt on that one. Yes, actions speak louder than words, but I forgot how powerful words can be.

When I get home from this conference, I am dropping that “lesson” at home and recrafting it, as I am not teaching him the lesson that I want him to learn.

Coach Harbaugh taught me today that there will be plenty of people in my kids’ lives that will coach-speak them, breaking things down in technique, criticizing them, tweaking them and more. My job is to lift them up: to tell them how much I believe in them, to tell other people how much I believe in them and make sure they see it demonstrated in my every action and unconditional support of them – always.

As the co-leader of Team Family, I am a better leader today than yesterday, and I’ve only just begun this journey. And this also translates to the people I am blessed to serve at work as a leader and mentor.

Thanks, Coach. Now I see.

The team. The team. The team.