Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What my Ride Can Teach About the New Leadership

I admit this may be just a cheap way to work my scooter into my professional blog. But humor me: the other day while I putt-putted along, thinking about the joys and benefits of scootering, it occurred to me that some of the lessons apply to the cuurent lessons we are learning about leadership, after scandals, bankruptcies, meltdowns, and more.

Riding a scooter can remind us to:

See the world in new ways. Participate: Maybe you’re taking a new route, or driving five mph slower than before. You might notice landmarks you wouldn’t otherwise come across. Or be forced to learn some new skills and habits. Your whole world feels different.

Take-Away: How can I be more present to both what is and what is possible? How can I, open up my creativity and spark it in my team? How would that benefit my organization, the bottom line, my industry, the world?

Be more resourceful, tighten our belts.
You might save some money on a scooter…and not just from the obvious: 100+/- MPG. Savings may derive from critically evaluating the need for every trip. Or because you plan your routes in advance, look at all the contingencies, weigh every expenditure.

Take-Away: Many of us need to tighten organizational belts. Organizations who are truly lean and green have an advantage. How can we plan, execute and evaluate to get the most bang for our bucks?

Be an original. Be yourself. I don’t know anyone else with a scooter; I bought mine because it met a need and sounded like a whole lot of fun. I’m not saying you should duplicate what I did; I’m suggesting you think for yourself! Have your own identity, color outside the lines.

Take-Away: An adventurous quality is needed more than ever, don’t you think? The old way is gone. The status quo will sink your ship. Think beyond what was done before, do something unexpected, make your mark.

Move through adversity. The other day, I expected eighty degrees and sunny, but it was cold, or foggy, or wet and stormy. I could suck it up—or I can look for plan B or C. Either choice is more interesting—and challenging--than sitting in my car in rush hour traffic. When I’m challenged, I’m alive and present and at my best.

Take-Away: We live in tough times. Do you make the most of challenges? Does adversity kick start your creativity muscle or send you scrambling for cover?

Be more transparent. The first time I rode my scooter, I felt nekkid! Occupants of vehicles have at least a modicum of privacy to lip-synch to their favorite song, apply eyeliner, or argue with their spouse. On a scooter or motorcycle, there’s nothing to hide behind. You are on display for the world; not for the faint of heart of the extremely shy.!

Take-Away: In the last few years, we’ve realized we need leaders to be more transparent. Hiding away making decisions for people without participation hasn’t served anyone. Tell us, show us the way. Involve us. Go out on a limb. Get out there.

Be an ambassador. Be visible. Be accountable. Within days of buying my first scooter, I learned there was no private citizen status, no anonymity. I am routinely cornered in parking lots, peppered with questions. “Where did you get that? Is it hard to ride? Do you need a special license? What’s the MPG?” And yes, without fail, they ask: “How much did it cost?” One day, a commuter even flagged me down to interrogate me about my shiny new red Kymco. I stopped only because I thought something was wrong, i.e. it was on FIRE. I was running late, but I did not mind the interruption too much: She was so excited as she launched into her questions. And I am an ambassador for what I love.

Take-Away: Can we bring that excitement, that ambassador nature, to our work? Can we be “on” even when we’d otherwise be “off?” Can we become comfortable expanding the the borders of our transparency?

Have fun! Many adults rarely have laugh-out-loud good times. Scootering is the most exhilaration I’ve found in my own daily, grown up world. But you don’t have to scoot to have a good time: the point is: are you *having* fun? Fun, of any type?

Take-Away: Understanding that non one has good times all the time, in the broad sense, if it ain’t fun, why do it? So: are you having fun? If not, can you make it fun or move to a situation that is? How can you add more humor, exhilaration and joy to what you do? What benefits would a more joyful vocation provide?

So there you have it. What scootering can teacher us about the new leadership. Tomorrow, what kayaking can teach us about the new HR.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Uneaten Donuts: Influencing Culture Change

I was recently struck by Jan Aylsworth's blog post on the Organizational Psychology ( She said this social science can be used to "Try – notice I said 'try' to implement culture change." Culture is not an easy thing to influence; even the science of O.P. doesn't have it the bag.

After being hammered with yearly double-digit health insurance premium hikes, the agency I work for has been trying to increase the health of our employees for years now. We've put into place a wellness committee, Stategic Plan initiatives, walking challenge, health articles, healthy cooking classes, subsidized gym memberships, Weight Watchers at Work. Have these efforts been successful? Definitive ROI would come from claims data, but since these efforts are longterm, we don't expect to see an impact on claims and premiums for several years.
While we wait, my next indicator of culture change is behavior. See exhibit A: the photo of uneaten donuts. At my office we love to eat! But recently, some kind soul brought donuts on a Tuesday morning and at noon on Wednesday, I snapped this photo of these poor dejected uneaten pastries. No one wanted to waste calories or points. Culture change? I hope so.
More about our wellness efforts in future posts.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Rocky aka "Party Like Rockstar"

My dogs are gone.

The kids left the gate open. Sometime during the night, Rocky and Lucky jumped through the dog door and in their happy-go-lucky fashion, took advantage of the breech in security. By the time we caught on, they were hours and miles away.

Despite their tags, no-one has called. They are not at Animal Control. Our puppies are missing in action.

Earlier this year, one of the kids left the gate open with tragic consequences. Our border collie Boomerang was hit by a car. With his severe head trauma, we had little choice but to put him down: a wrenching proposition, to say the least. So it is not easy now when my dogs are missing for almost 24 hours. I am trying not to obsess.

I am remembering some really dark days in my life, when I struggled with pervading grief and loss. But one day, serendipitously and by the grace of God, I noticed that I laughed about something.

This observation was startling, life changing, and something that could have been so easily missed: I felt 95% despair and 5% joy. Wow. Five percent joy. Somehow, God willing, despite my pain, I had the presence of mind to focus on the five percent rather than the reverse.

A camping aficionado, I found myself visualizing that tiny percentage as a fledgling flame. As one would patiently start a campfire, I gently blew on the coals to coax the tiny flames to life. With intense focus, five percent joy gradually became seven, then nine, then twelve, twenty-five, fifty-one percent. A miracle! The fire took over and positive emotion pervaded once again.

I've never forgotten that lesson, and that's what I think about now when my beloved Rocky and Lucky are gone. Yes, I am the dog lover of the family. I am the mom and caregiver. The dogs seek me out for food, companionship and affection, while my boys are pretty oblivious. I love my dogs and I'm heart-broken, and I could beat the guys up for the mistake, and go into a downward spiral...but you know what? If I agonize about it, I only experience agony.

Yes, I'm sad and concerned. I hope for the best, though I realize the best may not transpire. And through it all, I choose instead to focus on the 2%, 20%, 35% good.

And I hope that there is someone out there who can identify with--and benefit from--my five percent analogy. We experience so many emotions simultanteously and when down, we tend to focus on the negative ones almost exclusively. But if you focus only on the negative, that is all you'll see and feel. If you take time to notice and experience the myriad of feelings, including the [sometimes admittedly minority] positive emotions interspersed in during difficult times, you may experience a deeper, richer, happier tapestry of life.
Maybe it's only 2%, or .5%, but hold on to that, don't give up, focus on it, believe in it, coddle it, grow it into something that trips the balance so that joy and purpose reign again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lucky Engagement

Several times I've posted Lucky Dube videos on FaceBook and Twitter. Most posts probably get lost in the stream, but one or two people might wonder, "What is this obsession Krista has with this guy?"

In a word, engagement.

Lucky Dube was a South African musician whose name some might say failed him; he was murdered in 2008. But while he was alive, he was fully engaged in his art. Incidentally, it was said he eschewed coffee, alcohol, and drugs; the energy and passion you see is all from inside.

He was passionate, alive, full of joy and energy! He was in his element on stage.

And notice from these videos that his back-up singers and musicians are fully engaged, smiling and dancing and loving every minute.

And his audience is in heaven: thrilled to be there, fully in the moment.

We could all ask: Do I have half the energy, passion, playfulness, self-expression, love of life that Lucky had? Can I find joy in each performance, each day, each task? Can I share the stage, inspire harmony, coordinate to make beautiful music with others? Do I give people their money's worth--and then some? Do I leave my customers thrilled and happy and always wanting more? Do I inspire others and leave a lasting legacy?

Lucky was an artist, a performer; I am not suggesting that we dance and sing around the office. But home and work might be happier places if we could find ways to translate such passion and energy into HR, teaching, parenting, social work, management, nursing!

One final video. The quality is not great, but I chose to include it under the theory that engagement does not require perfect circumstances.

Thanks for indulging my tribute to a favorite artist and role model. Now, go engage with life!

(Lucky, RIP--if you wish to rest, which I doubt. You're probably dancing and singing in your afterlife.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Express Yourself

We used to be artistic.

We used to paint, dance, journal, draw, play music, photograph, write.

Now we just look for creative ways to balance the demands of our busy lives, to prevent a toddler's meltdown, or magically pull dinner out of a hat after a hectic day. We create moments of artistry on the fly by wordsmithing the Winsmith proposal 'til it's a thing of beauty. Or we rearrange plantings to perfect the perennial bed.

flickr by Amy2008

Such ran the conversation with a group of parent friends.

And there's nothing wrong with any of it. Your priorities and resources shift with the seasons. When you're sleep-deprived with an infant or coping with the long term disability of your child, you don't get much 'me time,' much less consciously think about creative expression.

But for the rest of us whose situations are busy but not quite so intense, it's a bit of a shame when creativity falls by the wayside. Perhaps creating [whatever we are called to create] should be as much part of our daily routines as exercising, eating, or brushing teeth.

Creating something new or beautiful feels good.

It lifts your mood.

It generates energy, opens you to possibilities, makes you feel vibrant, vital, and alive, spawns additional ideas and project possibilities. Just like physical exercise, you build your creativity muscles and the effort fuels the rest of your life, so that you more effective in other areas of your life. For example, interspersing creative moments during your workday may make other more mundane tasks feel less of a chore. If nothing else, it gives you something to look forward to, e.g. 'after I correct these infernal invoices, I'll spend 15 minutes on my blog.'

So get out those oil paints, tune up the piano, sign up for dance class, and write that poem. Do what you used to do. Or try something new. Either way, the rewards can spill over to enrich the rest of your life with renewed passion and energy.