Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


Leave a comment

Words From My Wake

Rockstar TeamAbout a month ago, I got offered a great opportunity with my company. Something like this doesn’t come around often, so I accepted and started planning the transition. Now, our window of time was brief, and the change was complicated. It was about more than just me. I worked with a stellar group of people and had hired virtually every one of them. We built a new team, forging a fresh course in our company. It was right then, but now we needed to evolve. It was time for added opportunities for all, and my new role happened to be the first page of our collective next chapter.

Even though I knew that this was right, telling them was going to be hard. Really hard. I had a great team. Talented. Job skills, knowledge, commitment? Yes, yes and yes. But each of them had something MORE. There’s something intrinsically amazing about them as individuals. It’s a quality that’s hard to capture in words. Perhaps it’s charisma, but to me, they’re all “heart” people. There’s a truth to each one of them – as radically different as they are from one another – that, when they come together, is magnified. I didn’t set out to hire “heart” people. I set out to hire talent, experience, and knowledge. It wasn’t until the team was complete that I saw the common thread. The team was business, focused, and real in a way that’s rare. And even though I knew we were all going on to even bigger things, I’d miss that magic.

Over the course of a few days, I walked them through the plan. Still, I had a team meeting already scheduled for the following week. It had been on the books for a while, and we had a lot in motion, so it was business as usual heading into the date.

The meeting was great. We had fun, laughed, and got a heck of a lot accomplished. We enjoyed time together professionally and personally. And as the last few hours wound down, we turned our attention to what’s next. It was an open forum to ask any question or work through any idea, no holds barred, with myself and one of our executives.

At that moment, I disappeared.

No, I didn’t leave physically. It was more like being at my own wake. It’s odd to sit in a room full of people as they talk about you, your leadership style, and values as if you’re not there. Frankly, it’s downright strange.

We all have this idea of who we are and how we come across. At my old company, my boss nicknamed me “Nails.” He used to say that I’m light-hearted up front, perhaps underestimated, but when it’s time to get down to it, I’m tough as steel. All business. A velvet hammer.

Listening to the group talk though, I heard new things. Transparency. Authenticity. High expectations, but patient (not something I would ever even consider associating with myself). Mentor and a friend. Business but heart.

Being a leader is a monumental job. Being a leader who’s a woman in an industry that’s dominated by men? It adds another dimension entirely. So, you adjust in whatever way seems to fit. I subscribe to car magazines, am an avid Spurs fan, and play fantasy football, March Madness brackets, whatever. Privately, I’m sentimental. Professionally, I’m Nails. I’ve always been proud of that moniker, but as that day progressed, I realized that nickname may not quite fit anymore. I used to say that “businesses aren’t people. They don’t have emotions. Business is just business.” Perhaps I was wrong.

A company is a collection of people. These people either have jobs or, if we’re lucky, they have something more. Shared ideals. A vision. A dream. When is a job something more? When people believe. When they’re passionate. When their hearts are all in.

Whether it was sheer luck or a reflection of something I hadn’t seen before, I was sitting in a room of “heart” people who were – and still are – all in. They taught me something new that day.

Maybe we need to hire for “heart” intentionally. Skills can be taught. I’m not sure “heart” can be. Maybe we need to cultivate and nurture it. That doesn’t mean not making smart business decisions or using our heads. It does mean recognizing what connects or inspires people, and making sure they know why they matter. Yes, it’s about performance, but is performance on its own really enough? Now, performance paired with true engagement? Perhaps that’s how we all win.


Leave a comment

Labels

WorkaholicI remember the day I got my first pair of Guess jeans.  They were skinny, acid-wash with zippers at the ankles: cute and a total knock off.  But at 16, that didn’t matter.  It was all about that little triangle on the pocket. You know which one I mean. Back then, I was a major geek living in the O.C., and it was all about the label.  It defined you.  Wearing Guess?  Trendy and cool.  Members Only?  Prepster with rich parents.  Listened to KROQ?  Edgy and alternative.  Labels – whether right or wrong – helped our teenage selves quickly assess a person or situation and make a judgment call.   That fake pair of “Guess” jeans was my ticket to the cool club.

Fast forward to the adult years.  As we get older, labels change. They become more about organization.  Time savings.  Streamlining.  Efficiency.  We label boxes, folders and storage drawers.  Heck, I even know a guy that labels his hangers.  Labels seem to make life easier.

But lately, I’ve been worried.  You see, my little guy has had a few tough days at school.  He’s one of the most loving and insightful kids you could ever meet, wicked smart and singularly focused. He knows he’s different, in whatever way he means. He’s also “vertically challenged.” Last night, he came to me crying because he didn’t “want to be small.” He’s begun acting out a little, trying to control the only things he can in an uncontrollable world.  And it hurts, because this is not who he truly is. We worry. What if he gets labeled as a “bad” kid, the one who misbehaves?  Things like that can follow someone for a lifetime.  We’re advocating, collaborating, documenting – doing what we need to do to make sure our son is supported, safe and happy in his own skin. We want so desperately for people to see the boy who is insecure right now, but who says the most tender things, who’s intuitive beyond his years and who gently cares for those who are sad or cannot speak for themselves.  We want them to see the real Luke.

People use labels at the office too.  There’s the top 10% who do 90% of the work.  The high performers.  The “rockstars.”  The “low hanging fruit”.  The “C players.”  These labels – these generalizations – get assigned to people, sometimes by virtue of past performance.  Sometimes not. And once assigned, they often become self-fulfilling prophesies. People begin to mold themselves to meet others’ expectations, instead of challenging the assumptions, busting down walls and kicking some *ss. The winners win more and the rest get stuck.

We label ourselves. We’re serious or a joker. Young. Old. Tomboy. Girly girl. Life of the party. Loner. Successful. Has been. Frankly, sometimes we’re downright cruel. These words play over and over inside our heads, programming our mind and beating down our soul. And sooner or later, regardless of what the truth may be, when we look in the mirror, our own labels stick. They’re no ticket to the cool club, and they don’t make life easier.  They drag you down. Those other winners win more, and you just get stuck.

It’s time to let go of your labels. Forget the voice in your head. It’s dead wrong. You are powerful. Magnificent. You’re a once in a zillion miracle who will never be again. Own that. It’s pretty freaking awesome.

If you lead people at work, they’re miracles too. Each one of them has greatness hidden inside of them. It’s up to you to help them bring it out. Get at it, figure it out or just move on. A failing department is led by a failing manager.  A leader finds the path, teaches and lights the road along the way. Then it’s up to your people to take that step.

And as for your children? Fill them with love. Yes, they may be different, but different is great. They’re once in a lifetime. Of course they are different. They may feel small, but they are giants in our hearts. They may not listen, but they will hear.

My son is an awesome, funny, creative, brilliant, mischievous, bull-headed little sprite, and no matter what happens, my husband and I will have our son’s back. I will drag his butt off the field if he misbehaves and hold him close when he realizes why I did it. I will guard his heart and his innocence as much as I can.  I will make administrators crazy, rattle cages and raise holy heck if that’s what I need to do to make sure my little guy isn’t just another label.  He’s no label. He’s so much more.

So are you.


3 Comments >

KleenexI was having a conversation the other day with a teammate of mine.  As we talked through a problem we wanted to solve, he said something interesting to me that got me thinking.  He casually mentioned that I had the “EQ” in our team….the emotional intelligence.

I’ve always been a sentimental person… frankly, a very emotional one.  And while I believe everyone feels things deeply, I think there are some people in the world that seem to feel “more”.  It’s the tender hearted among us: those of us who find our eyes welling up with tears during AT&T commercials or who know during any Disney movie about that one moment – that one song – that you dread because you know the waterworks are on the way.

Being emotional is a blessing and a curse.  In your personal relationships, it bonds to closer to your family.  You don’t leave anything unsaid as your heart speaks for your mind.  In professional situations, those emotions can be perceived as a barrier to advancement.  You may get frustrated easily.  Your disappointment is tangible.  So, you have to spend time learning to mask those emotions… hiding your true nature.  With your emotions in check, you project an aura of confidence.   Of strength.

But when did genuine emotion become a sign of weakness?  When did it become a drawback as opposed to a mark of bravery?

It’s brave to be genuine.  It’s brave to be vulnerable.

It’s brave to open your heart to others, risking pain and rejection on the hope that you can make something better.  It takes true grit, true strength of will to be the one who may take the bullet for someone else.

So many people mask their vulnerability. They mask their fear.  Safe in their cocoon, they take no risks… peering only far enough to see what they want to see and no more.

It reminds me of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”  Those among us who hide our emotions stare only at our own shadows, reasoning that we know the world we see, yet seeing no more than our own reflection.  Understanding no more than we allow ourselves to feel.

Then, there are those brave souls among us who embrace our emotions in work and in life.  We are freed from the cave and begin to walk into the light.  It is painful.  It hurts.  It’s confusing.  And it gets easier.  Will we like what we see or feel?  Perhaps.  But regardless of whether we’re bruised along the way, we see more clearly.  We are enlightened.   We no longer live in a thin veil of reality, but instead are bathed in the sun.   Living in the world of what is and what can be, we lead with hope and possibility.

Being an emotional person hurts.  We are often let down.   And yet, we are free.  Free to learn.  Free to love.  And free to lead.

I believe in freedom.  I’m just bringing a box of Kleenex along with me.

How about you?


Leave a comment

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!


Leave a comment

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?


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Five Steps for Making Every Moment Matter

Bracelets_of_powerSo, I think about relationships and leadership a lot.  After all, any kind of selling – whether you’re selling to businesses or people – is really about building a relationship.  Relationships are founded on milestones: your first date, taking a trip or buying your first car.  Yet, relationships are forged on the moments that come in between.  It’s the small things that you do such as smile a special smile, sharing a joke or opening a door, that speak to who you are and how the person with you feels when they are around you. Now, every business person today has heard from industry “experts” that loyalty is dead.  Gen X and Y folks may have eight or more “banking” relationships.  They don’t care about what make and model of car they drive etc.  According to many, the days of loyalty are fading fast.  Do you buy into that?  I don’t.  Take a look at your favorite sports team.  Take a look at their fan base.  Among that loyal fanbase – the jersey wearing face painted nation – are people of all ages.  Heck, my 5 year old can recite Kobe’s stats and recently schooled me on Metta World Peace.  And my house is part of the Spurs Nation.  What happened there?

So why aren’t more of your current clients, loyal clients?  Are you making every moment matter?

Now, I’m from a small town in South Dakota where you don’t lock your doors, where you know everyone (and their business) and where you go to the same store to purchase whatever you may need every time.  People still wave and say hello when you coast on by.  And if you burn a bridge, you probably just burned that bridge with half of the town as word spreads quickly.  Every moment matters. In today’s hypercompetitive economy, technology keeps people with us all the time – kind of like that same small town.  People you haven’t seen in decades “wave” as you pass by on Facebook, and one bad review or relationship turns into a thousand if not properly tended.  Today, you must always be aware, providing better and faster service to improve loyalty and keep your clients happy.  There are always opportunities to make magic moments each time you work with someone.

Tell Your Story
Every time you speak with someone, reinforce why your service is the best and what sets you apart.  After all, you work where you work because you believe in the greater purpose or mission.  It’s a basic human need to believe in something.  Share proudly why people should believe in you.
Show How Much You Care
Find sincere ways to show your clients how much you value them and how your product or service helps protect and care for them.  Every product is designed to meet some basic need.  What need does your product satisfy?  What problem does is cure?  How important is it to you personally that they are protected?  Make sure they know.
Everyone Walks Away With A Smile The path to happiness is a short one.  It starts with you being happy.  How happy do you feel when you sit down across from someone?  Is anything getting in the way of your good mood?  If so, get rid of it.  Is your desk cluttered?  Perhaps your mind is cluttered.  If you’re in a bad mood in the morning, find a token to remind you to change your frame of mind.  Mine is a set of rubber bracelets I picked up at a conference last year.  I call them my “Bracelets of Power.”  They tell me that “No Negativity is Allowed” and “Success is My Duty.”  I glance down at them, get a reminder, and put a smile on my face.  No matter how long someone has known you, every time they see you again, there is a tiny little adjustment in how they view you – a tiny judgment.  Make sure it’s a good one.  (Thanks to Grant Cardone for the token.)
Meet People Where They Are Most of your younger clients today grew up with both in person and digital relationships.  They’re comfortable in that space, and they expect you to be too.  Why ask them to go out of their comfort zone to meet you?  You’ve just added another hurdle to your success.  Just like the Country Doctor (AKA my Dad) did back in South Dakota, go to your client instead.  Do they want to meet in person?  Great.  E-mail?  Great.  Text message?  I’d bet a lot of people would appreciate it.  That’s what I prefer, and the fastest way to reach me frankly.  Then, great.  Getting outside of your comfort zone and into theirs helps build that elusive loyalty factor.  You’re placing their needs first.
People Remember Mistakes: No matter how good you are, sooner or later, you will let someone down.  Don’t let one bad experience ruin someone’s opinion of you or your Company.  Mistakes usually happen when you are distracted, whether it’s in multitasking and emailing while you are on a call or just a bit of mental drift near the end of a long day.  Remember, every moment matters.  Focus on the here and now when you are with someone.  Everything else can wait.  People have long memories in small towns and online, the world’s biggest small town.  And if you don’t have people that believe in you, you won’t have a business.  When you do make that dreaded mistake, please apologize.  Yes, it’s good manners.  Yes, it should be natural, but often we may get defensive.  Ultimately, that never helps.  A sincere, heartfelt and humble apology will go a long way to rebuilding a damaged relationship and creating a raving fan instead.
Make every moment matter.  It’s hard work, but it’s good work.  And it’s work that pays dividends both professionally and personally.
So how will you make it matter today?