Defining the Relationship

I have often said that being married is nothing like living together. I have literally never heard another person who agrees with me so I’m not surprised when people hear that and respond with a confused, ‘why?’ My answer is always the same, the fights are better when you’re married (and I don’t mean the making up, although that can be pretty good too). I mean the fights we have as a married couple are more intense and focused on the right things.

Let me back this up a little bit. When our relationship started I had had some experience in long-term relationships but had always (and was starting in this one) tried to be perfect for the other person. I learned what they wanted out of relationship or out of a girl friend and I became as close to that as possible. The ability to be flexible was great and a skill I still utilize however when you’re trying to fill a gap for someone or be perfect for them a few things will happen. It will greatly strain you personally creating all sorts of stress. They will rely on you as a crutch. You will grow to resent it or them.

Falling back into those old habits, I would find myself in arguments with my now husband where I couldn’t articulate well what I needed. He was confused, of course, because I had spent so much time trying to be exactly what he needed until I got mad because he assumed I would be, or do, exactly what he needed. This lead to passive aggression and resentment (solid foundation for a life long commitment no doubt). I wanted everything to be perfect but it needed to be perfect for him and for me and that didn’t seem to be working.

When we got married it started to improve. There was a new found confidence in the relationship. It was as though we were tied together in the best possible way. Said bluntly, I could say whatever I wanted in the fight because he wasn’t going anywhere. It isn’t as though either one of us took advantage of that in a negative way but it gave us the freedom to express ourselves without fear of the end result.

As time went on, we used that freedom and progressed in the relationship. It became less about what he needs and what I need, and more about what we need as a couple. The relationship started developing as a life of its own. We began, slowly, realizing that we weren’t advancing ourselves and our own agenda but what the relationship needed. Now obviously it is, was, will always be, comprised of the two of us but focusing less on what either individual needed and instead on what would be best for the couple changed our perspective. It allowed us to better focus on joint goals and rely on each other to support them. It also gave us new perspective on how individual goals impact us as a couple either positively or negatively. If one of us is better able to carry a certain load in the relationship or if one needs more margin or time to recharge to benefit it, we can see it more clearly. Conversely, if one of us is being selfish it is evident how that doesn’t serve the other person or us as a couple. Having the double whammy makes it stand out more so it happens less often.

This even impacted our ability to dream. We had always day dreamed about what we would do or want if we had all the money and all the time but they were separate things that mostly fit together in the same picture. Now, as we’ve progressed through the years, the dreams flow together like water colors on a page. You can see the distinction of what came from which color pallet but you can’t really define the edge of where one flows into the other. (Admittedly a little squishier than I normally get but I think it gets the point across.)

Did you forget which blog you’re reading yet?

This is all true of your relationships in your business as well. All too often people approach work relationships with their teammates, leaders or reports, and company as a whole the way I was approaching relationships in my early years. We come in pretending to be exactly what is needed and trying to fill every gap. Eventually the interview and honeymoon period wear off and we’re left frustrated. We may land in the world of resentment and passive aggression because we don’t feel the relationship is being reciprocated the way we expect. We may end up stressed because we’re over working ourselves trying to be “perfect” and becoming the crutch.

Consider for yourself how things would be different if your work relationships looked less like the dating pitfalls of the past and more like a mature marriage? How would it change your ability to make progress in your organization if you felt the same sort of commitment, freedom, focus, clarity, and shared vision that I described above? Now I’m obviously not suggesting that your work relationships are life long commitments the way a marriage is. However they can be treated with the same respect, maturity, and honesty and they’d be the most rewarding if they were.

Think about one of the most critical relationships you are a part of in your organization. It could be your boss, a teammate, strong ally from another department, etcetera. Now consider if the two of you were committed to each other and the success of the organization. There were no politics, egos, or concerns about credit or blame. How would that change things just in that very small circle? You could share work and cover each other’s backs. You could be honest with each other when one started to veer off course to hold yourselves accountable. Think about what it would do to your ability to advance the mission if you were committed enough, respectful enough, confident enough in your work relationships. Now imagine if you were the leader in this situation. This could mean the difference between management and leadership with your people. Having this type of relationship will make those around you want to follow, want to work together toward the goal, and that is the definition of leadership.

The question then becomes well how do you do it, right? It starts squarely with you. (I know, I hate it when that’s the answer too.) You only get out of it what you put in. You can gain so much fulfillment and value from your work but it isn’t going to be delivered to you in the interoffice mail bin. I would consider a few things right off the bat:
Am I being authentic? To contrast, are you like me and putting up a façade of who you think you should be? Or maybe your personal brand is to build a wall or clam up.
Am I stepping out in trust? Maybe you’re like me and are waiting for a “vow” from the other side. Sad to say you aren’t getting one. That doesn’t mean that you can’t build trust with that person. It starts with you taking the first step in vulnerability.
Am I letting go of my ego? I don’t know why but this one is the hardest for me. I want the credit. I want the acknowledgement for the work I’ve done. I want to be right for goodness sakes. The truth is, if you drop your ego at the door you’ll make so much more progress.

Next, it really takes time. I run through these questions regularly as I cultivate my relationships. I especially run through them for myself when I feel as though others fell short. I can’t change their actions or motives but I can assess mine and continuously progress. It does take continuous work, just like in a marriage, and there will be days where you fail miserably, just like in marriage. If you deliberately and consistently work at it though all of the fruits of the labor, more focus, more progress toward goals, mutual support, work that best suits abilities and talents, and clarity on a shared vision of the future, can be achieved in work, just like in marriage.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Prioritize the people. I do not have the bandwidth to have this type of relationship with everyone I work with. That would just be silly and I would be exhausted and fail. I am deliberate in who I choose to put this amount of work in with. I base that on proximity and impact. Proximity simply refers to the people I am working with every day that I will need to be in the strongest community with. Impact refers to where I believe we’ll see the biggest growth in the fruits of our labor. We’ll have the most benefit to the team or organization if I put the work into that. Let’s be honest, there is one more filter; who will be easier to see results with. If I know that I work with the person daily, there would be a good impact, but it would be like pulling teeth to develop trust or get past egos or whatever, I’m probably leaving that one lie, again, bandwidth.

Don’t be afraid of the friction. There will be frustration, disagreements, misunderstandings, and potentially a couple true fights along the way. First and foremost fight yourself to show respect, love, and trust to the other person. Second fight for the facts, even if you’re wrong. The end result, so long as the fights are constructive and you are reflecting on them to improve for the future, is positive even when it doesn’t feel like it. Be present through the pain and if it feels like you’re going through a particularly difficult season, its often a slingshot propelling you to the next level.

Don’t silo your life. Find connections from work to family, to friends, to church, to hobbies, to pets, to whatever else is in your life. You are very likely consistent in your actions and perspectives across them. Applying what you’ve learned in one area another will allow you to grow exponentially in each area.

Bringing Stress Into Focus

Stress is essentially a given in life. Personally I also think it is also given for a purpose. Stress can drive us forward and propel you to do the best you can in a given situation. It can allow you to focus with laser precision on the single most important thing that we want to do, be, or accomplish. It can, and often does, hold us back due to fear associated with the single most important thing. Stress can allow us laser focus, but on something trivial that wasn’t worth five minutes of our time let alone the 5 months we spent thinking about it.

Case in point for me, running. I have always enjoyed running. As an introvert it provides me time to recharge by myself. It allows me to see and appreciate my surroundings more clearly. It has also always added some degree of stress to the situation. Stressing over running originally, in school and college, meant not wanting anyone to see me walk. My goodness would that be mortifying right, someone who has no idea how fast, long, or far you have been pushing yourself to see you walk? What would happen if that person driving by, who has no idea who I am, where I’m at in my fitness journey, or would ever have the chance to vocalize any judgement (real or imagined by me) saw me walk? Not a dang thing, that’s what would happen. Silly to put so much energy into it but it did cause me to push harder and go farther, longer, faster. As my mom would put it, I was doing the right thing for the wrong reason. I would continue to think about it every time I ran. My focus on not wanting anyone to see me walk became a focus on not wanting anyone to know how far I ran for all the same reasons. If someone saw me come back from a run in college and casually ask how far I went or where I went I would be extremely vague so they couldn’t actually calculate the distance (Because as everyone knows, your college friends are obviously going to do additional math in order to judge your skills and abilities.) It got to the point that when I was running I couldn’t think of anything else. I couldn’t appreciate the surroundings or recharge because I spent the entire time consumed with thoughts of what people would think or how I could phrase the location so that they wouldn’t know. As you can imagine, that got absolutely exhausting. Eventually, I just stopped running.

Tunnel vision

It is funny that stress can do that to you. One day you’re pushing yourself further and harder because of it and the next you’ve given up completely because it got to be too much. It’s all about focus. As you continue to focus on something it brings it closer and closer to you. Sometimes it brings it so close that it is literally all you can see. That is the case for so many of us. The reason we can’t fall asleep at night, what we’re dwelling on during the day, we simply can’t get it out of our head. In different seasons of my life I have thought about the same thing first thing when I woke up, while I was getting ready in the morning, during any down time throughout the day, and last thing before I went to bed. Running was one of those for me but certainly not the only thing.

During one particular season in my career, I believed a person I worked with was trying to get me fired. I would consistently be brought into meetings and asked to verify facts about what I did, said, or intended by certain looks in meetings. I was confident in my behavior and where my intentions came from. I knew that my boss was in my corner and understood my actions and intentions. Still, it kept nagging at me. Eventually, it was just consuming for me. So much so that that when I went upstairs to check on my little guy who was sound asleep I laid down next to him and just cried wondering if I should just opt to be a stay-at-home mom instead. (This is such a gross reason to be considering taking on as noble work as being a stay-at-home parent.)

I realized through this that my stress in this situation wasn’t solving anything. It wasn’t even impacting anything except to give that person a hold on me 24 hours a day. There was no way that I could give them one more ounce of my energy I had far too many things that deserved it.

Getting out of the tunnel

Clearly in both of these situations I was not able to see past the thing that was stressing me out. It was there in front of my face so close I couldn’t see anything else; almost as if it were affixed to a pair of glasses I couldn’t take off. So how do you get rid of it? How do you block it from your mind? You don’t. (Well there’s a let down.) It is there for a purpose remember, see first paragraph. You have to add objectivity to the subjectivity of your stress to keep it at bay.

Start by identifying what it is moving you toward and if it is even yours to control. I find that these typically go hand in hand. For example, in running the stress was originally moving me toward a goal of running farther and faster and was clearly mine to control as it was entirely in my head. In someone at work trying to be a detriment to my career, that moved me closer to nothing and had absolutely nothing to do with me. Then, and I find this part so liberating, ask yourself what would happen if I failed? As in, what would happen if I quit on the goal or if I didn’t prevail against the outside force? What is the worst case scenario? This truly helps put in perspective because you can figure anything out. Even if the worst case scenario is that I lose my job, I could find another one. It would be hard and there would be stress on my family, but we would figure it out. Usually, the worst case scenario isn’t even that big. Usually its more like the running example, worst case scenario there, if someone saw me walk or knew I only ran a mile, they would think I was chubby and maybe lazy. OK. (Man I wish I would have actually realized this back then.)

My husband and I just did this recently while deciding to make a big purchase during Covid quarantine. I will admit he and I are wired differently so when I suggested the worst case scenario would be that we both lose our jobs as a result of Covid it started a bit of a tail spin (Maybe ease into it a little if you’re trying this with someone else rather than assuming they think how you think.) I did get him on board. Because we were thinking clearly and with the worst case in mind we determined that the likelihood of that was miniscule and even if it did, after working out the math, we would be ok. I’m telling you it is liberating to think in this perspective.

Sometimes, objectively understanding your stress and the reality isn’t enough. In those cases, take action. There are lots of stressors like that right? Where you know it is silly and serving no purpose but you just can’t get it out of your head. My experience is that it happens more when you don’t feel like you have control over that situation so, find something you do have control in. Identify those resources and work them. This could look like, finding someone to talk it through with, researching to increase your skills or knowledge in a certain area, or making a plan to restructure some of your work. In my case, I updated my resume incase worst case happened and made a list of areas and projects where I added value. This both remind myself that the person was wrong and allowed me to be ready incase I needed to remind others. Accepting that we have no control over the greater situation and then taking some semblance of control of the pieces, gives us a sense of peace and allows us to see the worst case and just one more hurdle in the race.

Finally, listen to others. I don’t mean listening to advice I mean listen to what is going on in their lives. What struggles are they facing? What triumphs are they seeing? It’s not about comparing and reminding yourself that other situations are just as bad or worse in other situations it’s about connecting to something that is bigger than, or even just other than, you. I have a friend who I would regularly talk to on my morning commute. We rarely had a balanced conversation it was one of the two of us dominating until we were out of time. There would be days where I would call her knowing I had things to say and would spend the drive processing or venting to her about whatever was on my mind. On other days I would have things to say and, evidently, she did too. I would spend those days listening to her talk about something great or something she was working through and I would no get a word in except to end the conversation when I got to my office. It was on those days that I really put my problems into perspective.

The world is bigger than me. The world keeps turning even if it feels like it is crumbling around me. There are joys, frustrations, projects, lessons, and expectations that have nothing to do with me. It doesn’t diminish what is happening in my life and it doesn’t make me fall into a comparison trap because during that time, I’m not thinking about me. I am thinking about her and funneling my efforts into understanding, celebrating with, or helping someone and something other than myself.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Stress is not inherently bad. What we do with it can be detrimental and get in our way. It needs to be used in a way that motivates you toward your goals. If you’re so focused on it that it is all you can see, you’ll fall. Taking a step back allows you to see it and everything else around it. Use it to motivate you but understand your limits and set boundaries to help you up and keep you there.

Write down the problem and the resource. Writing things down gives you so much more power around them. It also helps you remember them. It is one thing to do the cathartic act of writing it all out, and trust me there is immense value in just that. There is a whole other level of value when you leverage those solutions and resources when you need them.

If it doesn’t matter in five years, it doesn’t matter. That is a quote from Cher, not typically my go to resource on these types of things, but its a good one. I agree whole heartedly with the sentiment but it’s not that easy in the majority of cases. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t helpful. I need to train my brain to agree with that so continuing to remind myself of this is important and I do. Ask yourself the question consistently and actively work to make a decision based on the answer; it will make a difference.

I ‘Just’ Add Value

Have you ever thought about the value you bring to a situation or a task? I’m not talking about your value or worth as a person (that is unquestionable) but what you do, or how you do what you do, that increases the value of it? This is something I aim to instill in my team and we talk about it on a regular basis. How do we add value to the task we’re working on, to the team we’re a part of, or the department or company as a whole. When I first came into my role my team was assembled of people handling a variety of different tasks that weren’t previously grouped together. Though no one was new really we hadn’t worked together as a team before so I had a team meeting where everyone more or less introduced themselves. Each person went around the circle explained what they did. Without fail each and every person said essentially the same thing, “I just (fill in the blank with some small task).” That just gets under my skin. You don’t just do anything.
“I just pay bills” No, you are managing expenses for the department.
“I just review files.” No, you are measuring and quantifying performance to improve results.
“I just supervise.” Oh heck no (insert sassy head swivel for effect), you are developing and leading a team of individuals to improve quality results and impact the bottom line.
With all of the patience and grace I poses I forced myself to listen to everyone explain how they saw what they did. Then, with very limited patience and grace, I went round the circle and corrected all of them with how I saw what they actually did, which was obviously the only option in how to handle that situation.

Why does it matter?

There are things that I can get a little soap boxy about and this is one of them, but for good reason. Thinking in terms of value added has been a game changer for me. First, it can be done at any level of work and elevate that work. If my sole responsibility is to sweep the floor of my kitchen and I look at it through a lens of adding value, I could be making our home more inviting to guests, decreasing my husband’s stress, or simply enhancing my ability to make best use of the 5 second rule. All of those are more beneficial and more motivating to complete the task well than just sweeping the floor. It can also be done when working on a large initiative. For example, let’s say we have a goal of elevating talent of the overall organization and as part of that we need to create and implement a global needs assessment to determine our current baseline. Creating the needs assessment could be seen as just coming up with questions and adding them to a PDF fillable or, from a value added perspective, it is the first step in understanding and engaging the staff in their development journey.

Looking at work through the lens of what can I do to add value also starts you off on the path to thinking more strategically and holistically. Being detail oriented is a great skill however if you spend all of your time at ground level you can lose sight of the big picture and prioritization. You might be answering calls all day but understanding what type of value you’re adding to those customers and to your organization by doing it well helps you do it even better. You’ll be better able to adapt to change when direction shifts because you’ll already have a grasp on what the end goal is. Eventually, you’ll likely be one of the people suggesting or implementing changes to improve the end result because you’re keeping your eye on where the organization is going and how what you do impacts that.

Let’s take that same example out of cubical land and into education. I am a teacher and have been teaching the same curriculum for years. I use the same activities, worksheets, tests, etc and have always gotten good results so I just keep pulling those same levers to get slight variations of the same results (this would be the ground level version). Then another teacher comes in and they aren’t just teaching but are enhancing the students’ ability to learn. They are talking not only about the subject but about mental and physical health to improve focus in the classroom. They are testing out ways to be more creative with content putting it on YouTube and incorporating the outdoors so that no matter where each kid is at there will be something that speaks to them. Then when something crazy happens, like we’re all teaching and learning from our kitchen tables, laptops and tablets, which teacher is better able to adapt? Which teacher and which group of students has less stress because it’s almost as if they’ve been prepping for this all along? Between the two, which teacher has students who are still thriving and which has students who are barely hitting the mark? (Honestly there are probably a few of each in both classes but you get the idea.) Which teacher is thinking “when can we just get back to normal,” and which is thinking what was great and what was terrible from this experience so they can incorporate or remove them for next year whether we’re “normal” or not?

How do I instill this in my team?

So I’ve grown a bit since going around the circle correcting each member of my team who was just doing x, y, or z. To make sure that my team thinks in terms of this I first and foremost make sure I’m modeling it. I work very hard to frame my work and my day in terms of adding value to the team or the company. I fail of course (and probably use the stupid just word) from time to time but then, I fess up to the team to make it clear that that is not what I expect of myself (typically in a joking way because man would it sound pretentious otherwise).

We talk a lot. I am in dialog with most members of my team three or four times a week. We discuss what they are working on and I am always listening for the value add to the team or department. If I can tell where they are going but they aren’t making the connection from the work to what value it adds I’ll make the connection for them out loud, again modeling what I want them to do and be looking for and then ask some questions to elevate it even further. For example, if someone says, “It was interesting I saw some holes in the existing process, no wonder they haven’t been completing it right.” I’ll say something like, “Oh, great that we found it then! Compliance with the process should improve once we have that updated. What else do you think the group might need, training, job aids?” If it seems like they are missing it I’ll ask some questions to bring them back and remind them to always look to add a little more value. If they said, “They asked me for the numbers so they could analyze x, y, and z so I provided the numbers.” I’ll probably respond with, “OK, awesome thanks. What do you think is causing x, y, and z that they wanted to look into? Do you think you could have provided more detail around the analysis? Our overall goal is to increase the quality of work and maintain calibration. We’re better able to do that if we provide the analysis and the numbers to speed up the process and ensure we’re looking at it the same way.”

We also talk about it as a group. We have short team meetings twice a week where we talk about achievements, obstacles, and lessons among other things. The vast majority of achievements and lessons learned that the team brings are ways that they are adding value to the department so I get the chance to praise them for their work there and the entire group can benefit. Any obstacles that they bring can be processed as a group and I, or someone else on the team, can model what value we can bring to the situation. It’s beneficial to everyone’s development, including mine, to have those within the team helping to come up with solutions.

Things I’m reminding myself of

As the leader its more than just modeling ways that we can add value, you need to teach it as well. Obviously you have to start with getting yourself to think of what value you’ve been adding all along and then how you can raise the bar so that you can model that. It is really difficult to have your team learn right along with you because they’ll get confused on what you’re looking for if you’re still waffling on how to do it yourself. However, you can’t just stop with getting yourself right and modeling. This is a concept that needs to be taught as well. Originally I thought I could model it and my team would start following my lead, a couple of them did but mostly it was starting to drive a gap. I looked like a Pollyanna who didn’t quite understand the “real world” yet. This is why I started intentionally instilling it in the team and why I need to continually drive that forward.

Shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars. I truly find this phrase so very annoying but it is sort of true in this instance. If you’re always striving to add value and create value for others and then you get to a point that you just can’t get there, you can feel defeated. You just can’t force yourself to find the way you can add value to cleaning a toilet or creating the presentation or whatever it is, you’ll land in the world of just. When you’re truly trying to find motivation to elevate it is frustrating to land there. However will have completed what you needed to do. You’ll just get the toilet cleaned or the presentation will just be average. Sometimes just completing something is all you can muster and I would say that is a pretty good worst case scenario. If it is done, sometimes that can be good enough.

Make Negative Feedback a Positive Experience

I love a good fail. There is so much learning that comes out of a mistake and so many opportunities on the other side of it, how could you not love them? I mean, it is just a little more fun being on the leader side of it. It is amazing to work with people to navigate and grow from small mistakes to avoid bigger ones while developing the skills to handle those big ones when they do come up, but I enjoy them for myself as well. One of the best parts about hosing something up for me personally is working with others, who have been there before, on how to fix the situation, avoid it next time, and apply what I’ve learned to other areas. In short, my favorite part is the negative, or constructive, feedback. Even in situations that are successful I want to know what I could improve for the next presentation, project, meal I prepare, or parenting moment. To be honest, as anyone who has ever supervised me would tell you, I get terribly uncomfortable if I get feedback that is exclusively positive. I have gotten overly emotional over the fact that I can’t find the constructive feedback in a review or a conversation. (We all have our own personal brand of crazy and this is mine.)

There has been exactly one time where I received negative feedback that wasn’t constructive and didn’t serve me. It was a devastating hour long assault on my character, motives, and ability to lead or even contribute. There were no specifics given, even when requested, as to where these assumptions about me or my abilities came from. The person repeatedly told me I wasn’t able to influence anyone, was immature, and power hungry. They said, people didn’t like me, even if they acted like they did, and I needed to change but this would be something I’d just have to learn because “people can be mean” (That part was meant as a warning and I’m still not sure if they saw the irony it.). That is when it clicked. This is why people don’t like constructive feedback, even if this isn’t their actual experience, this is how it feels. They feel like they are being labeled as a whole based on generalities and assumptions. They feel like the person giving the feedback doesn’t fully understand the specifics and that these things aren’t true to all instances. If I’m being honest, that is the feeling I get about positive feedback. As they say, when you know better you do better. Once I realized what the problem was in feedback and fully understood it I was sure I could do better in both my preparation for, and delivery of, feedback to the people in my life.

Preparation

Often when we give feedback we provide it based on the emotion we’re having in that moment. That means, if it catches us off guard or if we’re having a completely unrelated hard time, we react differently. Case in point, my four year old spills a cup of water at the dinner table when I’m already stressed trying to get everyone all settled down and eating causes me to yell at him while I feverishly clean up all the water and demand his help (less than ideal reaction I would say). Where as if I’m playing a game with the same four year old and he accidently knocks over a cup of water on the carpeting I calmly say, “Oh no, a spill, what should we do quickly?” Then while cooperatively drying the carpet I explain this is why we keep drinks on the coffee table, so they don’t spill. Or another example from the homestead, I get home with all the dudes and our new chickens. As soon as my dog greets us he runs to a puddle and lays in it. As we carry each chick to the box in the garage he is excitedly running back and forth with us getting puddle water all over us. I’ll spare you the detail but let’s say my reaction to this was also less then ideal. My six year old reminded me that the dog didn’t mean to, he was excited, and we were all dirty from being outside and needed showers anyway.

As we all are well aware, there are way more accidents while we’re not prepared and not expecting them, than when we are so we need to force ourselves out of reaction mode and look a bit more at the intent, impact, and root cause. This does take more work and forces you to slow down before reacting but it will be well worth it in the end. Since Mason put a pretty good bow on my dog example let me wrap up the water ones. There was no intent to make a mess in either situation. Water on the floor and table have minimal impact on anything and can very easily be dried. There is a difference in them though, that does require differentiation in response (not as drastic as it was originally). That is in the root cause. When playing on the floor he was too focused on what we were playing to notice a cup. When sitting at the dinner table he was flailing around trying to be the funny man instead of sitting quietly like he was asked.

Let’s take this one to the office shall we. A while back there were three teammates working on very similar projects but different in their focus areas. Each person worked off of the same outline, same templates, very similar deliverables, but would include different perspectives that they were subject matter experts in. I worked with each of them on their projects and after about six months all three came up short of what they were expected to have completed. The interesting thing was that they were all in completely different stages. One had a clear plan on how the work would be completed and could articulate the status and plan to complete. For another this was a new way of completing the work and he was relying heavily on outside resources which was taking longer. The third didn’t appear to have a strategy started. It was incredibly frustrating but this time I am happy to report I handled a bit better. I knew the impact of not having the project completed and started asking questions to better understand the intent and the root cause so that I could tailor my feedback to each situation.

Delivery

Once you have prepared to give the feedback there are a few aspects to delivering it that are pivotal, first is timing. Provide feedback, whether it is positive or constructive, as soon as you can. If that means assessing a situation and preparing in the moment so that you can provide feedback immediately following the meeting, event, shift, etcetera, do that. If it means taking a night to process, remove emotion, and plan, and provide feedback the next day, do that. The second portion of this is clarity. If you aren’t clear on what you want to either praise or correct with your feedback it will at best have no impact and at worst have a negative impact with a very long tail. People want honest feedback and being vague is only doing them a disservice and won’t get the results you’re driving toward. Finally, it is important to extend grace to the person and I mean this both for positive and constructive feedback. People need to understand that they are bigger than one event, be that success or failure (A word to those of us accepting the feedback you are bigger than that one event.)

When I first began formally managing a team in a professional setting (and I do mean about 3-4 weeks on the job) I had an employee come into my office with tears in her eyes, close the door, and say, “I haven’t done my work for several weeks. I am so behind and I don’t know how to get out of it. I’m sorry this is terrible and I need help.” I asked a few more questions and found out that for about 6 weeks she had done just enough work that it would be difficult to tell in reporting that it wasn’t getting done properly, that is a pretty big impact. There wasn’t any malice behind it, she just couldn’t get motivated and focused while in the office due to some concerns outside of work. She had been doing the job for years so her ability to complete it and with quality result was there. Maybe it was because she brought the problem to me honestly and asked for help, maybe it was because this was the first big leader/team member problem I got to solve, or maybe it was simply that I was so fresh that I didn’t know the HR and performance policies, but I didn’t write her up for this. I explained that this was a problem and reminded her of the timeliness expectations for each aspect of her work that was undone. We made a list of all that needed to be completed and applied it to a calendar that would allow her to get back on track. All of this was in the same meeting. I then asked her to go back to her desk and set up weekly check-ins for the two of us to review her progress and ended the conversation with, “We’ll figure this out, I know you can do this.”

I will admit after a few more months she made significant headway but never completely caught back up. She eventually transitioned on to another team. There are times still that the lack of completed work put me or the team at a disadvantage. That being said, I would make no changes to how I handled that situation. A person came to me for help in complete transparency of their mistakes. I provided clear expectations around the role immediately. Then we worked together to create a go forward plan and she walked away knowing I was in her corner but that she was responsible for getting the work done.

The next time you have feedback for anyone in your life keep in mind there are two sides to supplying it effectively. You need both the preparation to understand what happened, and the quality delivery. In preparation, consider the impact, the intent, and the root cause of those specific circumstances. Then, when actually delivering it, speak to each of those aspects with clarity, as soon as possible, while extending grace. Then, empower them to make a change.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Setting someone up for success is a pretty important last step regardless of the overall impact. For some reason we seem to be much better at empowering people to succeed or improve when the stakes are higher. I will set up a corrective action plan for a team that needs help in a certain area but forget to ask my kid where he thinks the cup should sit so it doesn’t get bumped again. We need that empowerment, tools for success, or whatever you want to call it at each level and regardless of personal or professional. Doing this, especially on small things, teaches people to create their own solutions and action plans when they recognize a problem.

First compartmentalize the feedback, and then relate what you’ve learned to other areas. People are either complimenting or asking for more or better work specific to a time and instance that you’re working in. They are typically not, though it may feel that way, attacking, or complimenting, you or your work on the whole. Compartmentalizing has been a game changer for me and how I hear and apply feedback. Once you master this, then try to apply what you’ve learned more broadly. For example, if you get feedback that emails to your peers comes across too demanding and they need to be softened. That doesn’t mean you are demanding, or all your emails are bad. Once you wrapped your brain around that and see the error in what you wrote, apply what you learned about softening emails to the ones you send your team or boss. Maybe even consider how your requests are received verbally.

Consider all of the above notes on giving feedback while receiving feedback. Did the person giving the feedback prepare? Are they responding based on the intent, impact, and root cause of your actions? Are they delivering timely feedback, with clarity, and grace? If not, they likely could use some coaching in this area. With all of the patience you can muster, ask the questions. Take the kernel you can find to learn from, accept it (even if you disagree), and ask for more. When trying to have them look at intent, “From your perspective, what did it appear my intentions were on that call?” If you’re understanding impact, “I agree I could have handled that meeting more professionally. Can you help me understand how much of an impact that one instance might have?” For clarity, “I understand I didn’t document that well, can you provide some examples of how you would have liked to see it differently?” If you’re not receiving grace I would straight out encourage you to not bother with asking questions on this one. Serve as an example. Give yourself grace, and show it to those around you.

Turning it Off and On

I have been a workaholic for nearly 20 years. It is very easy for me to spend countless hours lost in a project or answering emails or refining that last bit of a presentation. Even as a kid with my first jobs I would hurriedly rush around looking for something fill, wipe, straighten, etc. If someone else started working on something while I was idle I would feel so much guilt around it and obviously the only way to fix that is to work harder. Once during a shift in the drive-in the owner was hanging around in the evening which happened from time to time but wasn’t particularly normal. It was toward the end of an 8 hour shift for me (which was proceeded by a 6 hour shift at my other job) and I had never once stopped working, in an business that encouraged frequent ice cream testing or French fry breaks. I was just doing what I typically did and finally the owner said, “Kelly would you stop already.” I was taken off guard, and she pulled me to the side, “I have been waiting for you to stop for hours so I could give you a raise and you never did.” Getting a raise at that moment really just further engrained this habit.

Fast forward a couple of years (ok fine, it was more than a couple) and I was essentially doing the same thing. I was working a lot of hours, pouring myself into each assignment, living and breathing office politics, and accomplishing a lot. I was accepted into a formal mentorship program where selected participants were paired up with senior level leaders within the company. During the application process I got the chance to choose a few different mentors I would like to learn more from. Of course, my top pick was the single most intimidating man in the company. I didn’t know him at all but I had heard wonderful things about his career and the way he worked with people. He would be able to teach me so much if only I could get past my fears. Which, if you’ve read prior posts you many know, consist of small talk and one on one conversations. So that combined with the most intimidating man in the company should go swimmingly right? Oh and by the way, he only wants to meet while we have lunch, so there’s the added pressure of getting food in stuck in your teeth while you talk. Well, it started off slow, then I built up the courage to get a little more open, then the flood gates opened, and finally the meetings were productive. After what I’ll call our “break through” meeting he asked me how I “turn it off.” I gave the very honest answer that now causes me to roll my eyes every time I think of it. “Turn it off? What do you mean? I love working. Working is my hobby.” (I can just hear me, all perky, working IS my hobby! puke) He said, “You’ll be better when you’re on if you know how to turn it off.“I can say without a doubt, that the statement fell on deaf ears. My self-centered brain thought maybe for you but I don’t need to turn it off. (Because clearly I know more than a person who has built an extremely successful career over the prior 30+ years.) I guess it only fell on mostly deaf ears though. As with most nuggets of wisdom, I allowed it to roll around in my head for a while, even while I thought he was wrong.

Over the years since that conversation I’ve come back to that thought regularly. “You’ll be better when you’re on if you know how to turn it off.” At first it came down to actually taking a lunch break a few days a week. On the days where I didn’t just stand at my desk, answering emails while I ate (as I normally would have) I would go and workout, run, or walk. I kid you not, I saw a difference in my productivity immediately. Walking away from my desk and my laptop for a while helped me to be so much more productive when I got back. The trick is you have to do something, or be disciplined enough, to truly turn work off. If you go for a light walk and hold your phone that is getting the email notifications the whole time, that is not turning it off. If you workout with people you work with and you spend the 30 minutes complaining about work while you lazily do squats, that is not turning it off. If you go for a run and allow your brain to spiral about how irritated you are with this, that, or the other thing, that is not turning it off. You will be incredibly drained by the end of the time away that you wont even want to go back (trust me, I’ve done each of them).

Moving your body in the middle of the day is a thing that I’ve adopted, as much as I’m able, because it acts as a reset for me. I do other things as well to try and keep my workaholicism in check like, keep regular work hours, practicing breath work to slow my mind down, starring as lead singer in concerts in my truck while I go to pick-up my small men, and doing my best not to work in front of them. These are things that have fit and helped me. They are all small, mostly because I have yet to master the ability to effectively take a vacation, but they have a big impact. However, this isn’t meant to be prescriptive. Maybe your thing is gardening, or a podcast, or cutting wood, or ventriloquism, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. Find something that turns it off for you so that you’re better when you’re on.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Every decision has consequences. If you follow me you may notice this was a reminder previously as well. It is almost the mirror image this time though. The way we develop a destructive habit is not on purpose, it is because there is a more immediate positive consequence and we don’t weigh in the negative consequence down the road. In my case this was crossing one more thing off the list and that small sense of accomplishment when your email is down to a manageable number and not realizing how burnt out I was getting. It is a good thing that I strive to achieve however I have to continuously remind myself of what I’m losing as a part of making that choice so that I don’t cross over the line.

Work with the end in mind, and by end I mean, the golden years of life. When I am 80 I want my friends, kids, and husband to look back at life with me and think that woman poured her heart into everything she did. She didn’t settle for mediocre in faith, relationships, work, or hobbies; she did the work for them all to be phenomenal. That’s a pretty tall order. I know it feels like a stretch to attach something as small as car dancing on the way to pick up kids from daycare to creating a phenomenal life but those little things add up. To deliver on that promise I need to be at my best and that means developing and keeping the habits that will ground me, and one of those is turning it off.

If you’re reading this at the time it comes out, Spring of 2020, you might be thinking that none of my examples work for you because you’re working from home, with kids, and your spouse. Maybe you’re working strange hours. Maybe you’re going to work as an essential worker and your spouse is home all day either isolated or with kids. I will say this louder than ever, you need to find a way to turn it off. That could look like prayer or meditation, stretches, a nap (yeah I said it, you can take a nap), or any host of things. Heck, when I really need a break from making, following, and enforcing rules both for work and home I turn on some crazy loud music and the boys and I have a dance party. It doesn’t matter what your example is, do something to shut out the world and get yourself out of your own head.

Do You Want Influence or Control?

Have you ever thought about the amount of influence you have in life? While I would argue that you have mountains of influence and you need to harness it to work for you, I am going to guess that most of us don’t think a whole lot about it until we feel like we’re not able to influence a situation. Often we get to a situation, big or small, where we are trying to steer it in a certain direction and feel as though we can’t. In those moments we reach for control. If you’re in a leadership position this can be the turning point of when you stop leading and start managing because you have to use your position, title, or authority to get people to do what you need them to do. If you’re not in a leadership role, and you don’t feel like you can control the situation, you very likely get overwhelmed or frustrated.

I had one such experience years ago where my boss and I were sitting in a meeting. He was trying to hand over the baton to me so I was supposed to be leading the meeting while he was there for moral support. Someone asked me if we were going to complete the work on time and I answered by asking a few more questions arriving at a very vague and small, probably not. The other attendees didn’t seem to appreciate that too much and looked over my shoulder at my boss. He responded with a confident, almost offended that they would ask, no, and promptly sighted every reason I had been implying by asking questions. Talk about deflated. Here I was trying to complete this big project and trying to show off that I knew how to do it and I couldn’t even get people to believe me that we might not hit the mark, how would I ever get them to believe that we would? (Insert eye roll at my old self for just how much weight I can put on a single interaction.)

I needed to find a way to increase the influence I could have with people, because that is what true leadership is. The first step I took was to ask my boss to not come to meetings anymore. I was clear that I wanted him in large group meetings and trainings but that I needed to handle the small groups on my own, or people would never trust that I was handling the project. (Also he talked a lot in meetings so often without even meaning to he would end up running them.) I said that I needed to sink or swim and I had no doubt that people would share their thoughts of my performance. Further, my work product of getting things done on deadline and without any major hiccups should speak for itself. He sort of gave me a cocked eyebrow when I suggested this but agreed. Since then I’ve learned how to more effectively influence people than to shyly, vaguely, ask questions. I have seen that there are both positive and negative ways of influencing, and that doesn’t mean good and bad.

Mostly it’s positive

More recently, I was on a conference call and my microphone wasn’t working properly. The others were going down a path for resolution while I thought I had something to add that would impact their decision. At first I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to add my two cents (Now, I talk a lot in meetings so when I can’t get a word in I typically do get frustrated) but as I listened I had a bit more peace around the situation. Surprisingly, by talking it all the way through, the group ended up coming to the decision that I believed to be correct, even without my astounding wisdom to guide them. (See post about how busy and important I am and remember I’m a work in progress.) It wasn’t for the reason I was going to point to but we got to the same end. Is it possible that they were cognizant of my interests because they knew I was on the call and listening, maybe. Are all of the people involved in this situation strong capable employees who make the right decisions and not ones that serve a single person’s interest, absolutely.

So why is this a good example to point to? (Didn’t this start out by saying that we do have influence and now have followed with two situations where I didn’t appear to have any?) There may or may not have been any direct influential impact on this specific decision, likely not. There was, influence from myself and others on how to get to the root of a problem, how to find and ask the right questions, how to identify and work with your resources and experts to better understand what is going on and what solution best fits. Influence is often subtle and just nudges you, and others, in a direction rather than all out shoving you that way, that is kind of the point. That means, that the amount of influence you have is a product of consistency.

Typically we’re trying to influence people by way of modeling what we would like to see. I categorize these as trust me and follow me. In trust me you are attempting to say, I can do this, you show the plan and provide the artifacts of what you have, or will, accomplish. My meeting with my boss, the one where I asked him to step out of my meetings, is a good example of this. I came to him with a clear why this was important, plan for what I needed from him, and way that he could measure it. (For the record I did do that but didn’t script it out or anything. I was not prepared enough to do that on purpose and didn’t realize that I was laying out a why, how, and measurement until much later.)

In follow me you are attempting to say, we can do this. For that, you need to ask more questions and allow them to come to their own solutions. You would be shocked at the way you can drive a conversation by asking good questions. This is a hard way to influence but truly the best way. I know exactly one person who excels at this and strive to learn from her daily. Asking questions is what I should have done if my mic had been working on that call, but in the gift of just having to listen to the conversation and watch it unfold, I could see what influence the leaders of this group (which is a small group that includes that excellent woman) had on the team. They were all asking the right questions to get to the right answer, essentially, in our absence.

Then sometimes you take a stand

There are times where you essentially take a bullet, knowingly, because it will make a point and change a future trajectory. I don’t believe these are situations that you strive for consistency in. They are typically negative in the short term so, if done correctly, these situations would be out of character or out of the norm and stick in people’s minds.

One of my favorite examples of this actually comes from a high school basketball game. Right in the beginning of the game one of our players, on defense, completely hacked a big guy coming down for a layup. Our guy wasn’t the star of the team or anything but could hold his own and certainly knew better than that. It was so obvious. Even our student section, which boo-ed every call, couldn’t complain about that one. Thankfully from there he kept his arms straight up when the guy drove in for a layup and managed to block a few shots. Later that week I was chatting with the coach, who was also a teacher, and I made a joke about the terrible foul. He told me it was intentional. “That guy would have killed us on layups all night. We needed to get in his head early and make him hesitate. His shooting percentage was way down in our game because he hesitated the rest of the night.” My little fourteen year old mind was blown, you can do that? Our player did one thing, in most eyes made one mistake, that impacted the trajectory of the game. I don’t remember if we won or lost but the other team had a heavy hitter with a high percentage shot that we were able to effectively disarm with one well timed foul.

In case you’re struggling to find the applicability from a high school sports analogy, lets use a corporate example too. There was one coworker who consistently referred to me as overwhelmed or over my head. These were phrased in almost backhanded compliments most of the time. For example he would say, “Thanks for getting to that, I know its been overwhelming lately.” At first I was just confused about what he thought was so difficult for me and glad that I was getting things done for him despite whatever it was that he thought was so hard. The problem was he kept doing it, in bigger and more “important” circles. Finally, other leaders would start asking me things through the filter of my being in over my head. Before starting project work they would ask how I was doing and if we needed to postpone. When it occurred to me that what he was doing was negatively impacting other’s perspective of me and what I was capable of, I had to step in. The results and my achievements, or lack of if that’s the case, should speak for themselves rather than the subtle undermining comments about me to the leadership team. So, after discussing with my supervisor who brushed it off telling me it wasn’t a big deal, I sent him a note. The note explained that I had the utmost respect for him and his opinion and if he had concerns I would hope that he would share them. It also explained that his constant reference to my being overwhelmed was impacting my ability to work effectively with the rest of the team. This is certainly out of character for me to send this in email and not allow the verbal chain of command to handle it. It was also quite frowned upon in this instance. I received a scathing email back and my supervisor pulled me into a meeting to discuss. That was a hard day and a painful conversation. Looking back, I am not sorry for my decision however. It had a negative consequence in the short term but I do think that my note struck a chord. He changed his attitude, or at least how he verbalized it, which quickly ceased the questions and reservations from others. He and I haven’t discussed since that day, and from my perspective don’t need to, however our level of respect is more reciprocal since.

These are two very different examples with very different stakes however the model is the same. Despite the fact that the short term consequence was negative and painful, the long term had pay off. The key is to, as best you’re able, understand what those short term consequences and the long term pay off are going to be and weigh them to determine which comes out ahead.

Daily I am influencing my family, team, and coworkers on their level of joy, priorities, confidence, respect, you name it. This is something you’re doing in your circle every day too. You are influencing those around you and being influenced by them. Even in social media, phone calls, and texts; every time you report to your friends that you’re killing it or falling down in some aspect you’re affecting how they feel about, and interact in, the situation.

To wrap up I want to point back to that original example where the project team looked to my boss for confirmation rather than trusting in me. In that moment, where he swooped in and saved the meeting, he didn’t have any of the details. In handing the project over to me he had stepped away from it and had been trusting me to handle it. He was influenced enough by my small hesitant voice to pick out the facts and present them more confidently. I probably wasn’t going to influence that team no matter how I phrased it at that point but I didn’t need to, I just needed to sway him. Influence doesn’t mean that people listen to you and follow each word that you say, that’s control. Influence means that you impacted the situation. Even in the situations where it feels like a total fail and like you’re completely out of control, you can still be impacting them for good.

Things I’m reminding myself of

There are consequences to every decision. This includes negative and positive consequences. Understanding the potential consequences and choosing to accept them or not helps you to not only be more intentional but also have more control over your own situation. It is a reminder that life isn’t happening to you, you made it happen for you.

We are consistently influencing situations we’re not in. The standard operating practices that we live by will have more impact than the situation we’re currently in. So if you’re leading a team or a family or your pets keep in that your typical way of handling different type of situations is living on in them and influencing how they handle those situations.

Influence trumps control any day of the week. Think of influence as asking a 5 year old what they think she should do after dinner and she takes a moment to think, then clears her place from the table. The control version would be more like after, or during, the temper tantrum taking her hands and picking up the plate and cup and “helping” her carry them to the sink. In the first one you prompted her to pause and think through what she might be missing while the second you controlled ever aspect of the ask. (If your’s is like my house you may start out influencing, get to directing, and finish in control.) Its not that control isn’t necessary from time to time but influencing gets the goal accomplished, teaches for next time, and avoids tears (usually).

Developing Myself

Development is incredibly important to me. As in, I think about if, in what areas, at what rate, and by what means I or people that I interact with are growing, multiple times a day. I truly believe that if you aren’t growing and developing a portion of yourself it is shrinking. Mental skills work just like muscles (I say this as fact when truly it just seems logical to me. However, my kid’s lesson in growth mindset from school has reinforced my perspective.) and we all know that a muscle will shrink just as fast as you develop it if you stop working it. So I work that muscle, and I try to ensure that others are doing the same. That may sound a little preachy, that I try to ensure that others are growing, but it looks more like encouragement. It looks more like taking note of where it appears a person is trying to grow and asking more questions about it. If there is an area that I know a person wants to shrink, for example consuming too much social media, alcohol, news, or whatever, I just try not to encourage it.

I used to think that I had to be at a conference or in a class or in a structured program to grow my strengths and fill my gaps. I had always been with managers who encouraged me taking those steps, I’d worked in a time when companies were able to allocate money to that, and I had been in situations personally that allowed for me to take the time and bandwidth to work toward developing myself professionally and personally. Then something changed. I was no longer selected to attend any internal programs as a representative from our group. When I would ask to join a meeting to learn from those involved I was told it wasn’t appropriate. Though I requested specific opportunities to grow skills I needed for my work, I was denied the time and funds to take the classes. When I requested the time to attend free workshops I was told it wasn’t a good use of time. If that wasn’t all frustrating enough, it was difficult to find the time at home too. Most of those opportunities were out of town, if not out of state, and would require my husband to be sole caregiver while I was away.

I was devastated by this. It sounds silly that I would have that much stock in representing the department, or taking a class, or being mentored but that was one place where I saw companies show their employees that they were valued, and I was missing it. To me, it was similar to someone cutting your paycheck. If I don’t get to learn then my future potential is being limited. As I said in the beginning, I take this pretty seriously.

That was when (let’s be serious, it was after about 2 weeks of self pity for some real first world problems) I started to have a realization that changed how I viewed growth and development. I was putting too much stock in the employee and employer relationship. As terrible as this is going to look in print, the company that employs me, and the manager I report to, have no responsibility to have my best interest at heart. Now, let me unpack that just a little because if a company wants to be successful they need to grow their talent and if a manager wants to be a true leader they do need to understand their people and grow them based on their talent and the needs of the company. I do think that by-and-large companies, and the leaders within them, do strive for that. (I had to reread and rewrite this next part because originally nearly every sentence ended with, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow. It was a bit much but if you could just imagine it repeating through the background as you read, it would help. Thanks.) However, no person or entity is going to be perfect in this, and neither will you. No matter how amazing and important you or I think we are, if the company or manager doesn’t agree, or our skills don’t align with the direction the company is going, they are not going to give the opportunities to us. They may be 100% right and justified in that decision and it does not diminish your worth because the amount any entity or person values you does not determine your value. It also, does not determine what you’re able to accomplish personally or professionally, and what muscles you’re able to work.

We all have the opportunity to grow and develop all of the time. As in, all the time. You can be growing while you’re answering emails, out for a walk, making dinner with your kids tugging on your shirt hem, or sitting on the couch watching TV. It is all about whether or not you choose to. Yup, sad to say it because I know I would rather that it is only possible during specific times, places, events, so that a. I wouldn’t have to be alerted to it all the time and b. it wouldn’t be my fault if I wasn’t growing and developing. However it’s true, this one is on us individually. Now, of course you can get help and align the areas you want to focus in with your company, local clubs, conferences, classes, on and on. While I would encourage you to do that, the best opportunities come out of just living life and leaning into difficult situations.

When I say, lean into difficult situations, I mean smaller, daily, frustrating situations that teach you life skills. This could be things like answering emails while pretending the person writing it truly had best intent, strategizing a better conversation to have with your children when they haven’t cleaned their room after the 15th time asking, completing the work project that needs to be done and pushing your phone (with all of the notifications) to the side, having a constructive conversation with your partner when they aren’t helping out the way you need them to, the list goes on and on. If you’re focused on building truly transferable skills, things like perseverance, listening, focus, time management, relationship building, influence, etc, you can do that at any time, in any place. The trick is, you won’t just get them. What you will get is, the opportunity to practice them.

There are a couple of skills that I am particularly working on right now so why not use those as examples. One is patience and another is time management. Do you know how many times a week, or a day even, I get the opportunity to build my patience muscles by taking a deep breath and counting to ten before I repeat whatever I just asked my kid to do when it appears he ignored me? I think its in the neighborhood of 873,234 times a day. Do I get them all right? Absolutely not. Do I get an opportunity to reflect on how I could have done better and make a change? You bet, because number 873,235 is right around the corner. I have shared this struggle with my kids too. I told them that it is frustrating when it seems like they didn’t listen to what I said. I then compared it to when they interrupt and get upset that we don’t immediately change the conversation to what they are talking or asking about. Now, there are even some instances where I hear, “Mom!! (pause, then very quietly) 1, 2, 3…” It’s adorable but it is also transparency for both of us while we each practice this skill. Another area I’m developing is time management. I am terrible at estimating how long things will take to get done and I consistently believe I’m capable of making things go faster. I believe I can make a meal in 30 minutes or less because the recipe says it will bake for 30 minutes. I have complete amnesia that there is recipe reading, chopping, measuring, sautéing, re-reading, combining, remembering a side dish would be good, searching Pinterest for quick sides, reading, boiling, searching substitutions for things I don’t have, and finally the dinner is on the table about 90 minutes after starting. I then will promptly blame anyone who spoke to me while cooking for my tardiness. (I know someone can relate to this right?) It’s not just with cooking either. I do the same thing with writing, sending emails, phone calls, laundry, on and on. So again, I get the opportunity to practice getting this right many many times per day. There could be better planning, more focus during the time I’m working on it, prep work, and just being realistic about the time it is going to take.

These types of skills also present themselves in groups. So it is not as though you need to attend a day’s course on time management and day two is patience. You get them working in tandem in true situations. For example, you’re working on sending one last critical email for work however your spouse is asking you questions, one child wants a snack, and the other wants to show you the project they made by cutting up all of the paper plates. This, my friend, is an amazing opportunity to develop a lot of skills. Rather than rubbing your hands up and down you face and barking, “I just need 5 minutes! That’s it; and maybe a glass of wine. But mostly just 5 dang minutes!” Think of how you could use this opportunity to your benefit. Look paper plate kid in the eye and ask one question about art project before telling him how amazing it is. Explain to spouse that you would love to talk over dinner when you can take a breath (and maybe have that wine) and if they can handle snack kid, you’ll be ready to chat in 10 minutes. Then, and here is the key, stick to the time you set. You already set the groundwork for listening, relationship building, and time management through being realistic, lets bring it home with some time management, focus, and delivering on the promise of time will further promote the relationship. Leave your phone where it is, do not come up with some other distraction like getting water, reading another email, or making a mental list of what needs to be cleaned in whatever room you’re in. Get what you need done in the time you promised.

Even if your situation looks a little different from mine (and you aren’t working full time complete with team development, system implementations, organization wide projects, and an email that looks like it may boil over; with your three kids in the background while you and your amazing husband balance them back and forth to complete school work) I assure you, you have plenty of these skills to practice. You might be a nurse in the eye of the storm spending every moment devoted to either helping patients heal or preparing to receive them and protect yourself and those around you allowing you unlimited opportunity to build your skills in relationship building, organization, and perseverance. You might be a grocery store employee, you can add light to the few people most are seeing in a day. Your attention to the customers and to the new standard operating practices of the store are important to further development of relationship building, prioritization, and focus. If you’re working from home you can be building your listening skills on conference calls, focus during the few child free moments, and better understand the culture of your team. If you’re not working right now maybe you’re living with children or a significant other, see above examples, you are certainly still able to develop. Remember you can use your new skills in the situations you developed them in and they will serve you just in the capacity you practiced them. You can also think of them as training ground for the future. Take them with you to your next performance review, your next job interview, the next time you need to use them in any host of situations they’ll be there, ready at your finger tips, because you took the opportunity to develop them.

Things I’m reminding myself of

In a season of social distancing, no matter how we’re experiencing the season, we’re always able to further develop or relationship building skills. No matter where you are or how you’re working or not working or how many people you get to see or not see, you can build relationships. This is so very critical for well being and success.

The learning doesn’t come in getting it right all of the time, it comes in getting it wrong. Yes, you read that correctly. When you think about it, how much do you learn by getting something right? Not a whole lot, but when you get it wrong, that is when you learn. Think of when someone was trying to give you directions and you made it to the destination, did you give it a second thought of how you could improve your listening? Maybe you should have written down more notes, asked more questions, or noticed when they sounded unsure of a turn and verified it. If you didn’t make it, if you got lost, I bet there was a lot of discussion of those directions and, in the kindest terms, how you maybe could have listened more and they could have communicated better. So give yourself grace when you get it wrong, because you will and you need to to improve.

Experience isn’t the best teacher, reflection is. Anyone can gain experience by virtue of aging. You can maximize your experiences by acknowledging those experiences and reflecting on them.

Practice makes permanence. Whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not, you’re practicing these skills every single day in every situation I noted and about one million more. The more you practice the more your habits get ingrained and the harder it is to stray from them because muscle memory starts taking over. We want that to happen and when it does, we want that muscle memory rooted in an intentional, positive foundation.

When Is Enough, Enough?

I was talking with a friend recently when he asked me, when is enough, enough. He wasn’t asking in the exasperated sense; he wasn’t fed up with anything. He was thinking about how you push for more, get bigger and better goals when you’ve already accomplished everything you set out to do. If you set out all of your career aspirations in college and make them a reality by the time you’re thirty, what do you do next? I totally get him but in case you don’t, let me break it down.

When we’re growing up we typically have these goals for what life will be like as we become an adult. Often, they aren’t overly impressive, and you may not even say them out loud.
I will not have to buy off brand cereal.
I won’t have to work at home every night.
My kids will get more than a pair of jeans and a shirt for back to school.
I won’t be so tired at night that I get home and sit on the coach with a drink.
I’m going to take my kids on vacations every year.
They are usually born out of some sort of mild pain you felt as a kid. Really all they are tangible ways of expressing that you want to do just a little bit better than your parents did. Let me be clear here that feeling this, wanting to do better, wanting to have more for you or your family, doesn’t mean that your parents did anything wrong. It is simply making the most of the propulsion your parents sent you out into the world with.

We get about a minute into our adult life and realize that these things are more about prioritization than what money you actually make, your status, or job title. Some of them will fall off the wayside, and you’ll find yourself saying the exact same thing about brand name cereal that your parents did.

Then we just get started into our careers and we set more goals, more career oriented than our first and based on our experience in our industry (insert a very haughty lapel grab because for the first time in our lives we can do something based on experience). Because we do this about 10 minutes into working, they are basically, based on nothing.
I’ll be in leadership.
I’ll go back to school and get my MBA.
I’ll earn a designation.
I’ll get an office.
These feel like they will take forever when you’re making your plans. Truly if you choose one or two of them and put your energy into them, you can accomplish them in pretty short order.

So then what? Now you’re well educated, in the position you set your sights on, providing your kids with all of the things you never had. You accomplished all of the things you set out to do and you have a lot of career left. You’re happy and content in life, it feels greedy to try and attain anything else. Do you sit back, enjoy, and essentially coast?

I say yes (bet you didn’t see that coming) but only for a minute. You worked your keister off my friend and whether you achieved all of your goals by 29 or 59 take a look around because this is what success looks like. You earned a minute to just revel in the fact that by all stretches of your childhood or young adult’s imagination, you have achieved everything you wanted. Breathe it in and celebrate it. I don’t care if you’re celebrating making $35,000 a year in the career you always dreamed of with a bottle of Barefoot wine and one of the fanciest frozen pizzas you could find. It was your dream and you achieved it, take a minute to drink that in. Then, get out there and do it again.

It is tempting to stay in this place of coasting for a long time. In my sheltered mid-western experience, we typically have spouses and kids by this point and putting all of our energy into accomplishing a goal based on 5 minutes of thought and a college ad we saw on Facebook, seems very frivolous now. Using all of your time, that you could be spending with your family or on regaining a long lost hobby, to hustle after a career dream when you’ve already accomplished everything you set out to do feels selfish, greedy, and like a waste of time that you aren’t getting back.

I say you have to (ok now I’m sure you saw that one coming). The very fact that we’re asking ourselves the question means that we’re looking for more. We have capacity for more. We want to make more of an impact. We want to show our family, children, peers, ourselves just how far we can go. I believe that if you’re asking yourself, the question of what now, then you aren’t ready to “coast.” So get out there and do something more, just put a little more thought into it this time. You aren’t wrong that accomplishing a new goal will take time and energy from you. You will need to clarify your goal to ensure that you are very clear on why you’re reaching for more and what that is.

What makes you tick?

Start by considering what motivates you, what energizes you, and what you’re missing when you don’t include it in your regular cadence of life. Like I’ve said before if you have been asking these questions, you’re part of the way there anyway. You likely already have a half-baked idea rolling around in the back of your head. You just aren’t sure exactly how to refine it let alone how to get there. At this stage, that’s ok. You don’t need to know the specifics. Just lean into whatever it is that makes you tick.

A friend of mine has creativity and artistic talent coming out of her pores. If she is kept in too much structure for too long she gets frustrated and has a hard time bringing herself out of it without a creative outlet. The trouble is that she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to work toward in the creative space. Design the perfect logo and wedding invitations, paint chicken pictures, knit hats for tiny babies, her abilities know no bounds so her plan couldn’t be narrowed. She was spending a lot of time trying to decide what to focus on and it was starting to stress her out. Be creative couldn’t be a goal though, it isn’t SMART. It was nearly becoming analysis paralysis choosing a direction. So ultimately create became the goal. She now just focuses on creating something, anything, at least 3 days a week.

Another person, who was very successful in her career at a young age, realized that her team was struggling. She lead a group of about 30-40 people who were having a hard time adapting to the ever-evolving culture, projects, workload, everything. She had a heart devoted to her team so she leaned into anything at work that seemed like it could help them. That meant when someone mentioned change management training, she was all over it.

I know another person who became engrossed in their own personal health journey. After a few years of essentially leveling up personally in her health goals, and posting about it on social media, she started developing a following. She didn’t start by trying to “help people” in this area. It just sort of happened by default as she started encouraging the world through, the basic message of “Take care of you. If I can do it you can too.”

Refine your why

Once you’ve tried a few things out and applied your high-level goal for some time your drive in that area has likely increased. If it hasn’t, you did it wrong. That sounds abrasive but the equation is kind of simple, if you spend time doing something that motivates and energizes you, you will increase in motivation and energy. Also, I’m not saying it won’t be hard. As we outlined before, there are a plethora of wonderful challenges this time around in attaining your goal. I will just say, if you thought, for example, teaching people to crotchet was going to be a motivator and now you dread heading to the cafeteria at lunch to sit with your group, this is not your passion and is not a good use of your time. That is ok, help Becky finish her scarf and then just return to step one and start again.

So, let’s pretend you did it “right”. You started to lean into something, and it lit you on fire. What is it about what you’re doing that brings you from motivated to start to be dedicated to continuing? What are you trying to accomplish? What do you want to feel while you’re doing it? Let’s go back to a couple of our examples.

When Team Oriented Tina, who realized that helping people walk through the craziness of work was her thing, first leaned into supporting her team she probably would have said “I like to help my people.” After taking the change management course she refined it to, “I really enjoy directing my team through change and uncertainty. I want to help them process it and come out productive.” She refined what she was doing and why.

Healthy Heather wanted to continue to inspire more people to take back their health, so she dipped her toe into another form of healthy activities and became a certified Barre teacher. She started teaching at a small studio a couple times a week. She loved it, got great results personally and developed a community with the other members of the studio.

Refining your why may feel like a bolt of lightning, but I think it’s more often a slow drizzle. For example, Crafty Carla is still leaning into the options and figuring it out. There is nothing wrong with that because dang-nabit you don’t have time to dive head first into something just to find out you’re not invested in fully.

Make it work for you

I know there are so very many of you who read that last piece and were thinking ok so clearly Tina has a career goal this can turn into, those other two examples are just fluff. Well you are wrong dear reader. You are able to monetize, incorporate, or improve from any interest or venture you invest in. It doesn’t make sense to break this down into a million “how-to” steps because it will look different for every passion, every career, and every lifestyle. Once you develop your passion though, look for ways you can make it work for you. My two examples came at it very differently, maybe they can inspire some ideas.

Back to Tina, she has been very successful in working with her team to navigate uncertain times and thrive through clear cut changes quickly and successfully. First, it will give her a more successful and dedicated team. This is giving her positive impact in the here and now. From there, it could help her move “up” from where she is. These are great but having these skills and this impact does so much more when you think about it. She is brought into conversations with other units in our department to assist them in fostering the same culture she is creating within her team. This affords her opportunities to learn other sides of the business within our own department. On a slightly larger scale, to continue to aid her team on a consistent basis and continue learning in her new realm of expertise, Tina needs to work with other people doing the same thing in the company. This gives her a lot of exposure to their business and an understanding of the challenges they face. She is helping them navigate change and improving those departments. What this does is open all sorts of doors for her within our company, which is awesome. Even outside of our walls though, these are skills that don’t just apply to work. She can now work her new muscle at home and assist her husband and her kids with big and small changes within their lives. (Is anyone else getting as excited about this as I am?)

That was the easy one though right? Tina found a resource at work that improved her current work and career opportunities. What if your passion, your why, isn’t as clearly linked?

Let’s talk about Healthy Heather again. She was the one who took up running and then realized she really loved a new workout studio in town. These helped her refine her why into inspiring others to take back their health. Attending studio classes turned into something she loved so much that she became an instructor there. Heather was able to define, set, achieve, and monetize a vision. This could be the end of the story and it would be awesome. It isn’t though. She took her passion and new found skill and applied it to her “real” job too. She became the Wellness Coordinator at her employer which allowed her a resume boost, a couple extra bucks, time to focus on health at work, and a budget to bring further focus on health and wellness to her counterparts. How crazy awesome is that?! Let’s take that even one more step down the trail, she was able to leverage all of this skill and experience when it came time to look for another position. This increased her value in the selection process, allowed her to focus on what mattered most in deciding whether or not to take the job, and I think the whole process she went through to get to that point gave her more confidence in herself to ask for what she needed in a new role.

Wrapping it up

To my friend who originally asked the question, “I’m so much further than I ever thought I would be but I can’t help feeling like, so I’m done now? Kel, when is enough, enough?” I’ll sum all of that up to tell him, be grateful for what you have and proud of what you’ve accomplished. Then, think creatively about what lights your heart on fire and see where it takes you.

All of my examples are very talented people are in different stages of reaching for more. They each may stay in the exact stage their in now and that would be great because they are leaning into something that energizes and motivates them. That in and of itself is a win! That alone will make you a better version of yourself because that energy, that passion, (insert more fun buzz words) will spill over into other things you’re involved in no matter what. When you have the courage and determination to take it a step or two further is when you can see life changing results.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Add some intentionality to your life. I specifically chose these 3 people in my life to use as examples for this question. As I was writing I thought of many more. All of these men and women are people that you could go get a fish fry on Friday with. They don’t think of themselves as anything special and you probably wouldn’t either. They just found something to light them up. Find what lights your heart on fire, lean into your passion, be a better version of yourself, all sound like a refreshed version of the 90’s posters encouraging you to “shoot for the moon so you’ll land among the stars”. My point is, it doesn’t have to be fancy or cheesy or anything like that. These are things that people are doing, often times by accident, maybe that is you right now. Add some intentionality around it and see how far it can take you.

Do this for you, not for “them”. When I have failed at finding what makes me tick, and I have failed at it about 1000 times, it is because I’m trying to fit into someone else’s box. I never tried to teach anyone to crotchet, I did try to teach myself. Not because I thought I was passionate about it but because I wanted to find a hobby that I could do while home with the kids. That way I wouldn’t have to inconvenience my husband, pay a babysitter, or spend a lot of money. If you’d like to see my tiny triangular scarf that I gave up on, let me know. If you’re pursuing a passion just remember it is for no one but you and make sure that use of time is worth it.

Surround yourself with the people who are reaching for more. My friends are pretty awesome. I have learned through the years to intentionally choose to spend time in community with people who challenge, encourage, and inspire me. It all started with refining who was in my social media. I am a firm believer that you are the 5 people you spend the most time with but 5 isn’t a magical number. You take on a little from all of the people in your life so pay attention to who that is.

Making it work for you doesn’t have to be all worked out right now. I feel like I made this clear above but it truly is something I need to remind myself of. You don’t need to know where the finish line is to start. I started out with a few fleeting interests and leaned into them. Some worked and some didn’t. I can’t say that I’ve monetized or can draw a clear line from my work to any specific measure of success, yet. So right now I’m hanging out in the middle, continuing to refine my why, and working the rest of it out as I go.

Thriving in Uncertainty: Part 2 Leading Others

I wrote a prior blog post about thriving through the uncertainty the world has to offer but from the individual perspective. However this is a leadership blog and while I do think it is important to put your own oxygen mask first, I also know that we don’t get to stop there. As a side note, and throw back to the prior post, the fact that we leaders can’t stop there is the exact reason it is so important that we get our minds and action right very quickly. People are looking to us to see how to respond and we want them to see the duck floating on top of the water not necessarily the feet going like crazy underneath.

None of us have lead through a pandemic of epic proportion before so, like many things, we just assume we don’t know how. I am here to tell you not to give in to that crazy side of your brain, it is wrong. You do know how to do this you just haven’t had the opportunity to apply what you know to Coronavirus, yet. No time like the present right? I do not profess the below to be an exhaustive how-to guide. I do believe reframing the narrative, acknowledging the difficulties, promoting creativity, and focusing on relationships are the basic structure that we’re able to come back to, to define where we went wrong in a mistake and highlight where we’re making strides. Each situation will have elements of all of them and it’s our job as leaders to reflect on what worked in regard to each, what didn’t, and take steps to closing the gap for the next situation.

Reframe the Narative

This goes back to how you digest the input you’re getting during this, or any difficult time. Do you see it as a blessing with a challenge that you can find a solution for? Or is it just a problem, roadblock, or loss. Period. End of story. How you frame it indicates how you respond to it. How you respond to it informs your team on how to respond to it.
You’ve been here before. Think of a time that your child got hurt. Not like skinned their knee hurt but where something could have caused a trip to the hospital. My oldest recently built a jump for his bike that he promptly went over crooked causing his leg to get twisted in the bike frame as they both feel abruptly to the ground. For a split second I thought, that could break his leg. He is a little bit of a hypochondriac so rather than run check on him, I decided in that split second that this would be better as a teaching opportunity than a run and comfort. I chose a different response. I stayed right where I was, stayed quiet for a moment, and then asked, “You good buddy? Come here if you want me to look at it.” My reframing as a “teaching moment” can’t change whether or not his leg breaks but it can change how I respond to it and then how he responds to it. His face said “Call 911!” but he restrained his mouth. He got up, kind of walked and stretched a minute (while making very loud breathing noises so everyone knew how big of deal it was), and went back to riding his bike.
By consciously deciding how I would view the situation I influenced my little man’s response. I didn’t tell him how to react I showed him how I would react. Never did I say, “You’re fine,” or “Walk it off,” I just calmly asked if he was ok and offered to look at it. Did he follow suit perfectly? No, but he did follow my lead and was able to pick himself up and dust himself off.

Acknowledge the Difficulties

This situation is hard. People are scared of getting sick, they are scared of friends and family getting sick. There are countless elderly alone in nursing homes and mothers alone in delivery rooms. You don’t really want to go to any public place but you end up in the grocery store more often because now you have a whole family living 24 hours a day under one roof. There are so many dang blessings in all of that but I am here to tell you it is also really hard. Now the one place that should have order for your employees is work, but don’t confuse order with blind optimism. There is nothing anyone hates more than a leader who’s view is so far in the clouds they don’t seem to realize that here on Earth there are real struggles. I think we’ve all seen a leader do this at some point. In an effort to model positivity they are walking around like they rode into the office on a rainbow while the rest of us are taking shelter from the hail. I may, or may not, have been accused of this in the past. (It is difficult to overcome when you come by it though a natural, genuine, zeal for life.) People want sincerity and honesty. They want to know that they can trust you and if it feels like you either don’t understand or are lying about the situation they can’t. It’s a tough balance though right? Model the positive perspective, be solution oriented, and acknowledge how hard and scary it is right now. That is especially true when you’re not honestly in that positive solution oriented mindset yet. (Another throw back to why it’s so important to get your self taken care of first and quickly.)
You’ve been here before. Imagine a time where something was very difficult or scary at work and your boss, or maybe their boss (it seems to get worse the higher up you go), just started telling everyone everything was fine. It’s all under control. Things are great, we’ve never been better, and we’re going to just keep on getting better from here. So don’t worry, you’re in good hands. A prime example of this in my life was in working for a large company which was well known for “re-organizations” in which large groups of people could be let go at a time. We were crazy busy, they weren’t replacing people who left, and we were told departments would be “combined.” As my co-workers and I could start to see the writing on the wall, we were brought into a Q&A meeting with the some of the supervisors. We were met with a response of, “Don’t you feel like you’re needed? You keep saying you’re busy. This business is cyclical and if you feel like there is enough work to go around there is nothing to worry about.” I remember just staring at the self-elected spokesperson of the supervisors, speechless. Our perspective on the amount of work we have to do has no impact on the company’s plan to keep the department open. A group of co-workers and I were chatting after the meeting to clarify the message (that’s the nice way of saying complain about the meeting). Another supervisor saw us and offered something to the effect of, this whole thing sucks and I wish there was more we could share. It is scary and we can only control what we can control. If you’re worried you’ll have to look for a job, start sprucing up your resume. You were looking for a job when you found this one, and you can do it again.
She didn’t provide (or potentially have) any more information than the first supervisor. She was positive but didn’t offer any uplifting advice or tell us everything would be fine. We had families to support and were looking at likely losing our jobs. I can tell you though, sitting with us in that frustration and then offering something tangible to do was absolutely more comforting, useful, and beneficial, than telling us if we felt busy then everything would be fine.

Promote Creativity

Work still needs to get done right now regardless of the climate. There are customers and employees who are depending on you and your company to continue to work and serve others. How do you do that? Creativity. You need to be creative to get everything done and you can’t come up with all of the “how” on your own. Your creative juices are informed by your perspective, experiences, understanding of the why, etc. That means they are also informed by your biases, negativity, and a little bit of your own personal WIIFM (what’s in it for me). (It is human nature and what we typically, positively, refer to as experience or wisdom. It’s important to remember though, this can have positive and negative effects.) How do you fill that gap? By involving other people to include all of their experience, perspectives, and biases as well. There is a whole team of people that you’re leading who also have ideas and often better ones than you because they are the ones actually doing the work.
You’ve been here before. Think of a time when you really needed to think outside the box. Maybe you had a bad set up in the first place or maybe you had a great set up, process, workflow, etc but needed now to make some changes. It was hard to come up with the best way to handle it wasn’t it? There are pros and cons to every decision you make changing the “how” work gets done is important. Or, if you’re like me, you are decisive and weigh the situation against the big picture strategy, boom decision made. However, this can cause you to miss the details and overlook some little issues that turn into big problems down the road.
This happened to a leader I know when a member of one of the teams she manages quit. She needed to make a quick decision to get the work done and the choice was a solid one, made in the moment, with the information she had available. Though it wasn’t a long term solution, it allowed her to prioritize and reallocate work so nothing got missed. To develop the long term solution, she brought just the facts to one of her team meetings. She came to them and said these tasks are critical, these are important, and these are ones that need to be tracked but can wait for a replacement. The team quickly came up with several solutions and while not all of them quite fit the need, there were a few that allowed all work to be completed and gave room to develop training opportunities for new people as they came on board. She offered some guidance but the team knew how to most efficiently and effectively get the work done so they were able to create a solid solution that could be counted on in the future.
This one has benefits from multiple sides. You get a better solution, your team has more buy-in to the direction you’re going, and it allows you to work on the next step below.

Focus on Relationships

When times are uncertain and scary and things aren’t working like you’re used to, people feel isolated. To compound that problem about 5000% the goal and best case scenario right now is that everyone is physically isolated. It is our job to ensure that our team doesn’t feel that way regardless of the required space between you.
This one I struggled to come up with an example that all, or the majority of people, could relate to. I do believe we’ve all been here before too, it’s just that relationships are so personal that each of us would treat it differently. Imagine a long distance relationship in college where you did everything that technology would allow to stay in touch with that person. Imagine the work trip you went on when your kids were small and you called home daily to hear their little voices tell you they missed you. Imagine that vacation you had scheduled so far in advance that you couldn’t know it would be the exact time a big contract or project or (insert any important conclusion at work) was coming to fruition and you checked your email on your phone every time you could to make sure your team was getting it done and didn’t need you. I can relate to each and every one of these situations and more. Prior to everyone working from home as a result of the pandemic, I had lead project teams with a combination of onsite and remote staff, supervised part-time work from home employees, directly supervised people in another state, lead supervisors who were supervising remotely, etc. You would think that that would clearly qualify me for this situation but I was still scared in the beginning and am frustrated by the loss of interactive non-verbal’s I would normally get from some of my team. The key to success in this one is the exact thing that makes adding one example so difficult. Each person, each relationship, is so very unique. Spend time in each one to determine what it needs. Maybe a break from your daily enthusiasm is exactly what one person needed (I can think of 1 or 2 on my team who might agree with that.) while another needs to know it’s OK to send you a meme at 6am so you can still start the day laughing. You need to understand what you need to feel part of the team and what they need. Set some ground rules and be flexible for each of them to fall into the rhythm of their own long distance relationship.

Things I’m reminding myself of

You’ve been here before. (Are you sick of reading that yet?) You know how to do all of the things and you have practiced doing them. All you’re doing now is applying them to a new situation. Guess what, you’ve been here before too! Before you hired someone, ran a meeting, gave constructive feedback, became a leader, you didn’t know how to apply the knowledge you had to that situation, but you did it. Certainly not perfectly but you were able to do it. There is nothing wrong with making a mistake and improving. Be confident in what you know and how you can apply it to everything you do.

Remind your team of what you’re reminding yourself of. (See prior post to remind yourself.) Your team needs to focus on gratitude and what they can control. They need to go back to basics on maintaining themselves to continue positive thoughts, actions, and habits. Finally, they need to look outside themselves and open up their world. That one, you can facilitate even within your own team. Encourage them to talk about their struggles (within reason) and listen to one another. It won’t be a real wide world view, but you have to start somewhere.

This is just an opportunity to get way better.” This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite bosses and I steal it regularly. The first time he said it I was in full out panic mode in my head (who am I kidding, I’m sure I had no control of my face). The problem seemed so overwhelming and I had no idea how to get around it at the time. Now, I truly can’t even remember what it was. I’m not trying to imply that we’ll forget Coronavirus, we won’t. I do think though that a little time will allow us to reflect on it with perspective. I want, for myself and all of us, to reflect back that we have closer relationships despite social distancing, enhanced skills despite being held back from “how we’ve always done it,” and that we are strong individually and as a community despite a situation that has the power to tear us down and rip us apart. Let’s take this opportunity, and get way better.

Thriving Through Uncertainty

We are living in a crazy time with Coronavirus seemingly right outside our doorsteps. Whether you believe its all media hype, some sort of government conspiracy, or all true and wish people would take it more seriously, it is greatly impacting all of our lives. Things like “social distancing” that didn’t exist a couple weeks ago now have people cracking jokes in the grocery store isles and have others refusing to open the door to someone who delivers groceries to their house. Kids aren’t able to go to school, the elderly aren’t able to have visitors in their nursing homes, and a lot of people in my age range have kids, schooling, work/teams, bills, parents, or even grand parents to worry about. That is a recipe for some pretty serious anxiety and fear.

If you’ve read my introduction post you know that I have 3 little dudes and lead a team at work. I am blessed to be in a position to work from home when I need to albeit maybe not as productively. My husband’s work is also flexible but relies heavily on face-to-face interaction which is no longer an option. I respect the heck out of teachers with their patience and ability to lead and mold the minds of tomorrow, I am not one of them. So with my kids and lessons coming home for the foreseeable future, it will be an interesting combination. There is a reason I chose to work with adults and it is not that I don’t like kids (remember I created 3 of them, on purpose) its because I lack the abilities and skills that it takes to be a great teacher and I only want kids to have great teachers. I do have a whole lot of people that I love who are “at risk”. These loved ones range from friends with chronic illness and compromised immune systems, to people with new babies, my kid’s friends at school who now don’t know how their getting breakfast and lunch, my friends with strong anxiety, and elderly family members. Note that not all of the groups I listed are what the CDC would consider high risk for the illness. This is so much bigger than getting sick at this point. At risk people includes those who are at risk of being isolated, at risk of panic, at risk of not having basic needs met, and quite frankly, at risk of making horrible decisions out of fear.

As I read that all back to myself I can note a couple of things.
1. I am one fortunate woman. I essentially listed inconveniences for myself and then many ways this new, temporary, normal will be so much more difficult for my friends and family.
2. It is easy to breeze right over the blessings and stick to the scary stuff if you just let your mind do what it does.
3. I missed a step (spoiler alert it was somewhat intentional for dramatic effect). If you re-read it you’ll notice there is a cadence there. Blessing, challenge related to it. Blessing, challenge related to it. The final step in each one of those sentences should be, creative solution. I am a stickler for offering solutions. Even if you don’t think the one solution you have in your head will be effective, offer it because it might be the best we have, it might cause people to jump off from it, or worst case scenario it is scrapped but at least it got you thinking.

I know that this sounds like something that is a nice theory but I promise it works in practice. I do it literally every day. Start with a blessing, identify the challenge, and then come up with a creative solution. The most simple example is when you’re just fixing the problem, “My kids have great teachers who put in a ton of time and effort to create lesson plans, I don’t know how to teach the new math, I will reach out to my kid’s teacher prior to the start to find resources.” That challenge can now be corrected because I’ll be able to teach math.
Some times when you start with the blessing, the beauty is (Yes I do know that word sounds churchy but its the best way I know to describe it. Also, I do believe that all blessings come from God and this is my blog so, sorry, not sorry.) that the solution is really just accept it. “I can work from home, I’m just not that efficient, accept it and move on.” Now that doesn’t mean that I just continue to be inefficient, it means that this is a very new venture and I don’t know what I don’t know yet so I’m starting where I’m at. If it is still a concern in a week I’ll try to find another solution.
Further, the solution doesn’t always have to be to fix what is wrong. “My husband has flexibility but can’t meet customers now which will impact his ability to work, determine what our emergency fund is and what would happen if he truly wasn’t working.” In this example, the solution doesn’t have to be keep him working. Just ensuring that we’re safe and have an understanding of where we’re at is a solution. For some, this may present a new challenge, there isn’t enough money. I would urge you to try the exercise again. “I have $500 and I’m still working (blessing), $500 is not enough to cover a month’s worth of expenses (challenge), we will put every penny into the emergency fund for as long as we’re working(solution).”

I do this with in one of my courses, Stress Management, when I go in to speak to high schoolers. In the course we take time to identify what the stressors/challenges are, rephrase starting with the blessing, and then find a solution. Then I help the kids take it one step further to call out the resources they’ll need to get there. I know that even when I share this with kids, (who’s stressors are so much bigger than I imagined) they are skeptical, so I use an illustration for them.

With a 5×9 card and a large Sharpie, write down your biggest stressor in big, black letters. Have a friend hold it up to your nose. It is right on top of you, right? Whatever you “thing” is it’s so big you can’t see anything else at this point. Truly, you can’t even see “it” anymore but you know what it is. It is just baring down on you staring you in the face and you can’t see past it. If you stand there long enough you might even forget exactly what it was that you were stressed about in the first place but you’ll remember how it feels. It makes you uncomfortable, afraid, and maybe even helpless.

This, friends, is how I know that anxiety is real. Having that word that they wrote down themselves staring back at them, mixed with my talking about stress sometimes creates a down right panic for them. That is what is going on in our country and the world right now. I’m not saying that Coronavirus isn’t something to be scared of, I’m saying that continuous focus on the challenges it will pose is only going to compound the issue, because that is how stress works. It’s true for the 1st grader stressed over who will sit with them on the bus, it’s true of the high schooler who is stressed about how to maintain a relationship with their dad after a divorce, and it’s true of those of us living in this upside down Coronavirus world.

Again, I know that this sounds overly simplistic to deal with a problem of literally pandemic proportions. Sometimes we need to go back to basics to remind ourselves that we are stronger, and more resilient, than we think. With students that I work with, as we go through the class, they use that same card to write down their gratitude, challenge, solution/resource statements. It is amazing what this can do to empower the kids to go out and improve the situation. I hope some of us can do the same.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Focus on what you can control and show gratitude for the blessings you have. I wish I could turn this into a short paragraph like I typically do but, um, for detail see above post.

Go back to basics on more than just your thought patterns. (Also, science does show that your behaviors, even if at first you’re just going through the motions, can/will change your thought patterns.) This is a time to take care of ourselves not to let that slide. Drink all of the water, get enough sleep, keep your body moving, eat food that will fuel you, and keep a routine. You may not have to get up as early for work, or get the kids ready for school, or whatever it is, but having some structure to your day and a plan for how you’re going to get all of the things done will have lots of benefits. You really will get more done and when you miss something it will have been in the schedule so you’ll know what it is. Finally, having the routine is like a gold mine for dealing with your stress and anxiety. You intentionally choose where your focus will be giving you control, you can schedule in all of the basic self-maintenance that you need, and you can skip the scheduling in of “catch up on the pandemic status” so you don’t have to have that at the forefront all of the time.

Look outside of yourself. This one is so important to me. Look outside your circumstances, your life, your immediate community’s culture, and understand what others are going through. Ask questions and talk to people who are going through the different challenges or have different perspectives. Opening your view to the world outside your doorstep will help you understand gratitude on a new level. It will allow you to help others find those creative solutions that they need. It will help take your 5×9 card away from your nose so that you can see the big picture, the whole world, that lay behind it.