Old Habits

I worked from home over the holidays. There wasn’t much going on, as most of my coworkers and clients took the time off. And yet, I sat, poised and tense, in front of my computer sending as many emails as I could to prove to as many people as possible that I was working.

Eventually, I ran out of things to email people about. (It didn’t take long.) And, since most of the people I emailed were out, I wasn’t going to get a response until the following week. So then I sat there, feeling guilty and trying to create something to do so I didn’t feel guilty. All of this made me even more tense.

After a while, I took a break from sitting tensely at my computer trying to generate work and took the dog for a walk. The whole time my mind was churning with all of the shoulds it could come up with, all the ways it could berate me for being a lazy slacker.

When I got home, I picked up my journal and started to write all of the messages the critic in my head was telling me. I wrote “I am afraid I am going to get in trouble for not being a hard worker.” And then I had to laugh out loud when I wrote, “when I am an old person, I will finally be able to stop worrying and will be able to say what I am thinking without caring what other people think!”

Wow. I am almost 47 years old. But apparently those old “be a good girl, be a hard worker” messages from when I was 7 years old are still playing in my head. How old is too old to worry be worried about “getting in trouble?” Do I really have to be an old person to stop worrying? Or will worrying make me into an old person…?

I have decided the expiration date on my worry about “getting in trouble” has passed. I also have decided that I am doing no one any favors by stifling myself and trying to be a good girl (especially since I am a grown woman.) And finally, I have decided that it might actually be fun to throw caution to the wind and risk getting in trouble (just a little, and not in the legal sense) just to see what happens.

Old habits do die hard. But taking a good hard look at them is one way to minimize their power. I don’t expect to suddenly let loose and start running my mouth off willy-nilly at work, but I do expect that I will catch myself when I find I am in my “good girl” mode and start to push myself to take a few more risks, ask a few more hard questions and not worry about getting in trouble.

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Managing Creative People in 2014

ImageRecently I was talking to a client who was struggling with a member of his staff who works in a creative capacity. He said that his staff person does outstanding work, but that she gets easily frustrated by deadlines and takes feedback very personally. As a highly creative person myself, this really struck a chord with me.

To this day, I still often have a visceral and emotional reaction when a new project comes up with a tight timeline. My instinctual reaction is IMPOSSIBLE, CAN’T BE DONE, WHY THE RUSH??? DON’T THEY KNOW THAT CREATIVITY TAKES TIME??

What I have realized over the course of my career, however is how to manage that reaction and make it work for me. Sometimes a tight deadline can help spur my creativity if I am allowed the kind of space I need to generate and work the way that works best for me. Sitting at my desk and slaving over my computer does not work, especially under a tight timeline. I need to get up and move, go for a walk or go sit in nature at a local park or just do something away from the office. I take a notepad and just let my mind wander as I walk or sit in nature. I almost always come away from this time with a plan of attack and the boost of energy I need to get it done.

If you manage a creative person, especially in our instant-gratification, highly stimulating culture, try to find out how s/he works best under pressure and make sure s/he knows s/he has permission to do those things if they help her/him to center and produce with less stress. Maybe s/he needs to let off steam at the gym or draw or paint to get her/his right brain going and turn off the critical noise of the left brain. Many traditional work places don’t look too kindly on that, but as a manager, if you can encourage your creative folks to work the way that works best for them, under consideration of the time pressures and deliverables that are a reality of the job, that might help them relax a bit.

Early in my career, I was also very attached to each of my ideas, and really connected my identity and personal validity to them. Any time someone would give me feedback (critcism) or input (criticism) about my ideas, I would take it as a personal slight (criticism) and throw a tantrum inside my head. Sometimes, I would even go back to my desk and cry because I took the input so personally. I’m sure this came out as immature sometimes, but it’s also a sign of passion…which is way better than ambivalence. If you have managed and tried to motivate a creative person who was also ambivalent, you know that you would MUCH rather deal with one that was passionate! Sometimes creativitiy can come out as attitude (superiority) or criticalness, but it’s usually based on the desire for perfection or doing things in a unique way. Being excellent and also different from everyone else is a hallmark of the creative thinker. This can be a blessing and a curse for the creative person and his/her boss.
 
As I matured and began to understand the way the world works and the benefits of compromise, even if I didn’t love or agree with the direction, I found that for some things “good enough” really was good enough. But first, I had to get over my perfectionistic judging and feeling that I was copping out or selling myself short by “just” doing work that was good enough. I also found that allowing some things just to be good enough helped me save up my creative juices for the projects that gave me time and space and energy to really give it my creative all. It’s easy to burn out as a creative person because you want to be ON and GREAT and SPECIAL all the time.
 
By saving it up and channeling it in a productive, non-resistant way, you can be good and do good quality work most of the time and really GREAT and SUPER SPECIAL work when it counts the most. As a manager, learning to balance your expectations and those of your creative team members can help you know when to encourage simple, quality work that is good enough to meet your objectives and when to push and allow space for something great and special to blossom.

Happy New Year!

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Re-eVALUE-ating

The first time I did any work with my personal values was in 2007, as part of an organizational leadership 360 assessment process and organization development effort conducted by a consultant certified in the Barrett Values Centre Culture Transformation Tools (a tool I eventually received my certification in as well.) The process opened my eyes to the power of discussing values on a personal and organizational level.

As part of that assessment, I had to identify my top 10 most closely held values. This was the list I came up with at the time (in no particular order):

• creativity
• humor/fun
• supportive
• reliable
• openness
• listener
• counseling
• intuition
• clarity
• balance (home/work)

I did a deeper dive into my values in 2010 during a Velocity workshop. Using their trademarked prioritization process, I identified my six most closely held core values and defined what they meant to me. I had these posted in my office for more than a year:

CORE VALUES 12.2010

Recently, I conducted a session on personal values and the ways we bring our values to work for the organizational effectiveness team of which I am a part. After that session, I realized my list of core values had evolved (they tend to do that as we grow, evolve and have different life experiences) and decided it was time for a revisit. It took quite a bit of inner debate and really considering what is MOST important to me, but in the end I came up with the following:

CORE VALUES 2013

If you are interested, you can take this free personal values assessment from the Barrett Values Centre, which will provide you with not only a list of your values but a report highlighting the impact of those values across various levels of consciousness and some worksheets for further exploration.

I also found the criteria included in this document from the Mason Law Group in California helpful when narrowing down and getting to root of my top core values:

“Core values are essential, universal, and personal. They are essential because it feels as though you cannot live without them. For example, if respect is one of your core values and you are told that respect will never happen, ever, you would say, ‘Then what is the point of life?’ It is so fundamental; life would be meaningless without it.

Universal means that your core values apply everywhere, all the time. No matter where you are or when it is, your core values are important. This is what separates core values from other important values. This is true whether you are at home, at work or in line at the movie theater…

They are personal because they are based on your life experience. If you and a coworker both have a core value of respect, you would each describe it differently. This is because you have different life experiences and thereby different definitions…”

Being aware of your own values, and working to understand the values of those you live and work with, can help you understand what drives people’s behaviors, enhance your communication and improve your relationships.

Einstein in the Clouds

einsteinA little more than a week ago — before summer descended in all it’s hot and humid glory on Northern Virginia, as it tends to do after Memorial Day — with my back and hips aching from the damp chill, I decided to take a nice, hot bath. I love getting the water just hot enough so that I can open the window above the tub, let the breeze blow in, hear the sounds of nature and look at the trees and sky while I soak and ponder.

This particular evening, it had rained, and large banks of clouds were marching across the sky. I watched them as they rolled and transformed themselves, playing the familiar game we played as kids, trying to see what I could see in their ever-changing form.

Suddenly, I saw a profile. One with bushy hair, a long nose and what appeared to be a mustache. Yes! It was Einstein. Einstein in the clouds! I laughed out loud in delight and wished I had my camera handy. But no sooner than he appeared, the great man was swallowed up by a shift in the breeze. Still, he had been there. And to think I had JUST read a quote from him that morning…

The quote I read was this one: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Which, of course, lead me to thinking about the thinking I had used to create my most recent problem, namely that I am not doing well working 100% on my own. What was I thinking??

Granted, I am an “independent little cuss” to quote at least one of my parents and maybe a few other folks as well… And granted, I am an introspective, intuitive introvert. Yes, all of this means I do well working on my own and prefer times of solitude to think, generate ideas and rest.

What I have discovered, however, is that being independent and intuitive is not enough to attract the work to me, and I am driving myself up a tree and beating myself up about what I am doing (or not doing) that is wrong or, more often, what is wrong with me that I can’t “make” this work.

Now, Albert, if you weren’t a specter in the clouds, I would ask you what I should DO about that? I suspect you would tell me it’s all relative. And well, yes, I suppose it is. So, since then I have been thinking about a different kind of thinking, the kind that will help me solve this problem.

This is going to take a while, and it won’t be revealed as magically as Einstein’s profile in the clouds, but I figured a good place to start was by telling the truth of what lies behind the problem.  The truth is that I am not sure what to do with myself in my own context. I know what to do with myself in the context of other people, groups or organizations, but when left completely to my own devices, my own flood of ideas, my own pile of should, my own demons and delights, I tend to avoid, hide, armor up, shut down or numb out. And that’s just not working.

I know where this comes from. At least I’ve cracked that part of it, which was really tough. Now I need to change the thinking that was formed and perfected over a couple of decades. Phew. I wish that was as easy to do as it is to write. But, as it’s another partly cloudy, partly rainy afternoon, maybe I’ll wander outside and see if the clouds have something to say to inspire me…I just hope they don’t show me Al Roker, or worse, Al Bundy, this time.

Reinventing and Reclaiming. What Will Transpire?

When I first started Transpire, a little more than a year ago, the first thing I did was create content for this website. I wanted to distance myself from the career I left – strategic communications – and reposition myself in my new career of organization development. So I talked to a lot of people and wrote content based on what they recommended.

The content you see on the site is not that first content. About six months in to trying to build my business, I realized that what my website said I did and the reflection it gave about who I am was just not authentic. It did a really good job of reflecting what other people told me I should say, not so much about what I really wanted to say. So, I rewrote my content to more accurately fit my voice and portray what I thought it was I really wanted to with myself and my work.

It’s better. More me. But it’s not there yet. Recently I have been wondering why I am throwing out my first career, like the baby with the proverbial bath water, when communications is still a crucial part of the work I am doing today. It is a core component of organizational health, key to the successful management of change and the creation of resilient, responsive, agile organizations.

I know – from having practiced strategic, organizational communications and marketing for over 20 years – how vital the work of communications is as well as how challenging it can be.  I also know how often communications is overlooked as a vital element to decision-making, effective execution, employee engagement and change management.

I get it. And I can help address it! So, I will be reinventing the content here to reclaim my expertise. As I do, I wonder what will transpire? Stay tuned!

Going the Distance…Slowly

Yesterday, after being sick for nearly three weeks, I finally felt well enough to re-engage in my regular exercise program. I am a walker. I have been a walker since before walking became cool. By moving my body, I clear my mind and access my creative capacity. Yesterday, I needed a little of all of that.

So I set out on my usual, 3-mile route. Normally, I can keep up my pace and finish the three miles in well under an hour (not bad for someone with really short legs and a 3-year old left knee!) But after only half a mile yesterday, I noticed that my pace was flagging as was my energy.

Always very hard on myself, I started to get frustrated that I was going “too slow.” My mind was making a lot of noise, telling me to either crank up the pace or give it up. But I did neither. Instead, I kept on course but respected my need to move more slowly.

In the end, I got home about an hour and 15 minutes after I started, which was surprising to me since I thought I was really crawling. But the time is really irrelevant. I could have quit, but I didn’t. I could have driven myself until I dropped to soothe my ego, but I didn’t. Instead, I took care of myself and moved slowly but with purpose. And I went the distance.

How often do we find ourselves in a similar situation in our work, when a project seems out of reach and we feel stressed and want to quit? What would happen, if instead of listening to the noise in our heads and draining our energy with negative thinking or fear of failure, we just put our heads down and went the distance, but slowly, out of respect for and committment to ourselves?

How can you take care of yourself while going the distance today?

The Three Bosses (Not a Fairy Tale)

Do you know how much your leadership impacts the culture of your organization, and how much your culture impacts your brand? The best leaders understand that everything they say and everything they do is watched, taken to heart and assimilated into the way people behave throughout the organization, whether with one another or with customers/clients.

—Stated or unstated, explicit or implicit, intentional or unintentional, transparent or covert, your organization’s culture drives your business and your brand every day.  Your culture is your brand and your brand is your culture. If you don’t live it inside, you can’t deliver it outside.
Your culture has an impact inside and out, whether you want it to or not. And, make no mistake: The culture of your organization is a reflection of the values and beliefs of your leaders.
Perhaps a few examples from my own experience, twisted into the metaphor of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, will help make this point. I give you The Three Bosses.
Boss #1 was TOO HARD. She was abrasive, abusive and unpredictable. From day-to-day, moment-to-moment, we never knew what to expect from her.  Worst of all, she was only out for her own benefit and would often embarrass us, criticize us and throw us under the bus in front of others in order to try to make herself look better.
The culture we experienced working for Boss #1 was one of  —fear, anxiety and knee-jerk reactions. Because she was so reactionary, so were we. Under her leadership and as a result of her reputation, the organization floundered both inside and out.
Boss #2 was TOO SOFT. She loved everyone to a fault, which sounds wonderful until I realized that meant there was no accountability and there were no boundaries. People ran rough-shod over one another, violated agreements and passive-aggresively undermined one another’s work, because they knew there would be no consequences. If someone got upset, they would go into her office and she would pat them on the head and validate their feelings, but would never take action to fix any of the issues that abounded. Boss #2 avoided conflict at all costs. As a result there were conflicts brewing at all times, most often under the surface, creating a pressure that was palpable despite the boss’ smiling face and polished demeanor.
The culture created by Boss #2 was one of —chaos, ambiguity and taking advantage. Most of us with a conscience and a work ethic left, experiencing workplace PTSD for months thereafter. Those who fear accountability, colluded with the boss’ conflict-avoidance and feed off her weakness remain. Today the organization is on life-support, finding it hard to show value to its customers because of its unproductive culture and ineffective leadership.
Boss #3 was JUST RIGHT. He walked his talk. He allowed us autonomy in our jobs, but provided all the support we needed.  Most importantly to me, he kept things in perspective. When others would start to freak out, he would slow things down. When someone got too serious about something, he would lighten the mood with a quip and a laugh. When the President of the organization got a crazy idea that threatened to throw us off task, he would step in and be a buffer so we could work in peace.
Boss #3 created a culture of trust, respect and productivity. Who could ask for more? He was the one that modeled the beliefs and behaviors that I adopted when I became a boss. “A boss’ job is to make sure his/her team has everything they need to get their jobs done. The boss works for the team, not the other way around.” Today the organization is more successful than ever, adding revenue and resources while remaining efficient and focused.
What does your culture say about your leadership? Are you too hard, too soft or just right? How does your leadership and the culture you create affect your brand and your bottom line? How do you know…?