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Robin Williams and the Pink Elephant at Work

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We must bring to light a dark topic which most of us would rather avoid. It is more common and detrimental in the workplace than we care to admit, and likely each of us knows someone who suffers from its burden. It is raw and painful and most people would gladly keep it in the shadows, but it is also pervasive and powerful so we cannot ignore the pink elephant at work: Depression.

For the week following his suicide, Robin Williams’s tributes were a main topic of social media feeds which quickly gave way to ice bucket challenge videos, but let’s rewind the tape for a minute. The recent death of Robin Williams (1951—2014) has sparked an important conversation that deserves your attention as a leader and quite simply as a human being.

Depression affects more people than we know about because it is often a hidden struggle. The general public was shocked by the news that Robin Williams was experiencing an inner battle and ultimately chose to take his own life, but the wake-up call here is that there are more people just like him whose pain and suffering is silent. Depression can make people feel weak, disengaged, isolated, hopeless, void of value, and imprisoned by thoughts of desperation, which can have a negative impact on everyday functioning.

Leaders, take note! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • 18.8 million American adults will suffer from a depressive illness yearly.
  • Approximately 80% of persons with depression reported some level of functional impairment and 27% reported serious difficulties in work and home life.
  • In a 3-month period, persons with depression miss an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity.
  • Depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year costing employers up to $44 billion.

Sometimes depression is severe. What are the warning signs and how can you help someone in an emotional crisis? If you manage people at any level, then you might face this enormous challenge among your staff. Broaching the subject is likely outside of your comfort zone but the American Psychological Association offers some guidance:

  • Look for sudden changes in behavior (e.g. poor hygiene, weight change, social withdrawal)
  • Reach out in a supportive and non-judgmental way. Listen more than you talk.
  • Get professional help: consult your Human Resources department, reference your organization’s employee assistance program, or use the APA’s Psychologist Locator service.
  • Intervene immediately if you suspect that someone is considering suicide. Trained crisis prevention counselors from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are available at 1-800-273-TALK.
  • Utilize available resources to help people who are struggling to cope after suicide.

Balance is paramount when addressing such a heavy and uncomfortable issue, so let us share and enjoy the laughter, lightheartedness, and life lessons of the man whose loss we mourn and whose memory we celebrate. I have always been fond of Robin Williams, and the 1989 film, Dead Poets Society, made a marked impression on me which I still appreciate 25 years later. Although depression may rob individuals of their ability to call upon their own internal resources to pursue their passions, those who are blessed with the capacity to do so, must seize the day and write their verse!

Every person has limitations and struggles, and every person has gifts and talents. As a leader in any aspect of life, can you truly recognize and accept this dichotomy of our human nature? Only then will you be able to contribute a verse to this powerful play that goes on and on.

What will your verse be?

About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology, and her research is based on mindfulness. You can reach her at sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

Photo credit: pink elephant

Party like its 1776!

With America’s recent bid for the World Cup title, coupled with the 4th of July weekend, I’ve been feeling pretty patriotic lately. I’ve decided that my first born’s sons name will be Tim Howard…Jaramillo. After the amazing 16 saves in the recent loss to Belgium in the World Cup by Tim Howard, I can admit that only this would be the appropriate and patriotic thing to do.  And with tTim Howardhis upcoming 4th of July weekend, I suddenly feel inspired to name my first daughter George Washington…Jaramillo. Some of these names, I’m sure, would have to be screened by my wife, but after some pillow talk and cuddling, I think they might be serious contenders.

The 4th of July weekend is a special weekend for so many reasons. In today’s modern America, it means fireworks, BBQ’s, family, and a whole lot of people trying some Pintrest(y) type desserts. We all need to eat a flag cake at least once in our lives, don’t we? Although John Adams never predicted the American hipster, he came pretty close to what celebrations look like today. He said the 4th of July, “Ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” He also wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail that the Second Continental Congress voted in Philadelphia to declare independence from Britain on July 2nd, not July 4th….whoops! And most of the signers actually signed on August 2nd and not on July 4th. Just to be safe, I’m recommending July 2nd-July 4th as national holiday(s). Who’s with me?

Whether it’s July 2nd or July 4th, I know one thing’s for sure. There have been incredible men and women who have sacrificed and fought to keep our nation independent. So let’s celebrate and cheer, not just for our nation, but for the folks who make up our great nation.

Gus is a Learning and Performance Professional at the Ken Blanchard Companies and is currently finishing his PhD in I/O Psychology. He can be reached at gus.jaramillo@kenblanchard.com

The “L” Word—Is It On Your Mind?

In his closing remarks at yesterday’s company meeting, Ken Blanchard shared Covey’s four basic needs which underlie human fulfillment: to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.

 “The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.”
Stephen R. Covey

The “L” word—the BIG one—is legacy, the story of you and your imprint upon the world. It’s been a repeated topic of conversation in my spheres lately, as it should be in yours. Visioning is central to the success of organizations, teams, leaders, and individual contributors because it creates a dialogue around the meaning and value behind the work that we do. Your legacy extends far beyond your career into your personal and professional relationships; your family or community involvement and recreational activities; and in your moment-to-moment everyday experiences. What kind of legacy are you building, and where do you even begin? Covey reminds us that life is short, so ask yourself:

  • What makes life worth living? What’s missing?
  • What do I need to learn? To unlearn?
  • How will I be remembered?
  • What do I dream of?

These are big questions—Give yourself time to develop honest and deeply rooted answers.  It can be tempting to dismiss dreams as unattainable or impractical, but dreams stem from a place within each of us that British philosopher, Alan Watts, calls “the deep, down, basic, whatever there is.” In this inspirational video, Watts talks about the human need to feel significant and connected to something greater than ourselves:


There is nothing trivial about finding and giving voice to your purpose in life and however you frame the concept of legacy, the story is yours to write. In another moving video, The Real You, Watts talks about the idea of waking up and finding out who you are. An individual’s sense of self is a complex, idiosyncratic, and exquisite answer to the venerable question: Who AM I?

Before you can build a meaningful legacy, you first need to have a clear picture of who you are and what gives value and purpose to your life. Because your identity defines how you see yourself belonging in the world and relating to others, it is fundamental to creating your vision, living your dreams, and leading others to do the same. In Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the peak is self-actualization—the human need for self-fulfillment and striving to achieve one’s highest potential. This is a process of continual learning so you can always seek new ways of infusing energy and creativity into your everyday events.

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Self-development is profound work but it doesn’t need to be intense. A variation of Covey’s four basic needs overlays learning with laughter because we can’t be serious all the time. That’s also why one of the founding principles of The Ken Blanchard Companies is to have fun! On your journey of life, never forget the gift of child-like wonder—not in the sense of immaturity or naivety, but rather of being curious and light-hearted along the way. As you think about who you are and most importantly the unique story you are leading, remember that life is short. Keep the “L” word always in mind.

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About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and her research is based on mindfulness. You can reach her at sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

Can You Get the Delicious Cake?

Several years ago, someone posed the following challenge on a popular internet image board:

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The goal was “get the delicious cake” and you had to draw your solution. No other rules were given.

One response showed the figure crawling through the spikes, while others used elements from pop culture to get the cake. For instance, Harry Potter magic spells, Star Wars lightsabers, and Super Mario warp pipes were all presented as solutions to this challenge. The following are a few of the more original and creative ways people attained the cake:

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Use the door!

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When you want to get rid of something in an image, the eraser tool is handy

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Thinking outside of the box

The lesson I took from this was that people can get very creative when presented with a problem and given the freedom to devise a solution.

As a leader, you may have goals you need to accomplish, but it is left up to you to determine how to accomplish those goals. With a little time and ingenuity, you can come up with many different and often surprising ways to achieve those goals, particularly when you have the help of others.

So how would you get to the delicious cake? Type your solution in the comments, or you can use your favorite image editor or an online one and post a visual of your solution.

Are you a Whine Sommelier?

If you are like me, you probably know someone who is a Sommelier, or an expert on all things wine. They know the flavors, the smells, and what will best complement each food item on the menu. They can tell you about the regions the wine came from, how long you should wait before you open a bottle, and the perfect temperatures for each bottle you have. Wine experts generally all agree on 1 rule: don’t drink the same bottle of wine every time.

Well here’s my number 1 rule for those who may be a Sommelier (of sorts).

Don’t uncork the whine.wine_couple

There’s nothing worse than when you’re having a great dinner conversation with friends, and someone busts out the whine. Maybe you’re trying to have fun, talking about good times, and someone has to complain all night about some inequitable atrocity that was bestowed upon them. Don’t get me wrong, a good whine is great for certain occasions, but you have to know when to share it and when to just leave it corked. I mean, some people bring that whine to every occasion and I think to myself, “That whine is 100 years old, you should have saved it for a special occasion.”

I get it. Sometimes you just need to vent and be heard; I’m definitely with you on that. However, next time you are in the mood for a good whine, just remember that not everyone drinks.

Gus is a Learning and Performance Professional at the Ken Blanchard Companies and is currently finishing his PhD in I/O Psychology. He can be reached at gus.jaramillo@kenblanchard.com

 

Be the Gazelle

There is much to admire about the gazelle. She is a beautiful creature—delicate and graceful yet agile, fast and resilient. What makes her truly remarkable is her unique ability in response to a life-threatening situation to literally just shake it off. You’ve probably seen a similar National Geographic video: a gazelle is grazing with the herd when she suddenly becomes the target of a ravenous cheetah’s hunt. One second she’s foraging and the next she’s running for her life. Instantly her heart is pounding and adrenaline is racing through her veins as survival instincts take over. Watching this scene you can’t help but think, “this is NOT going to end well,” but the cheetah unexpectedly gives up. When the gazelle realizes she’s no longer being chased, she slows to a halt and waits to ensure that she is safe. Then something incredible happens: she starts shaking and quickly her entire body erupts into convulsion. Her nervous system is physically discharging the excess energy and arousal that it no longer needs. Soon she’s bounding off across the plain…time to get back to the herd.

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Have you ever had an experience in which you were faced with some kind of threat (physical or psychological) and as fear creeps in, you start trembling uncontrollably? I will never forget the moment when this happened to me two years ago. I was faced with an absolutely overwhelming situation that I didn’t know how to handle and suddenly it started–I began shaking and I couldn’t stop! It’s a very strange sensation. I felt completely helpless until I realized what was happening and thought to myself, “yes, be the gazelle.”

Self-leadership is predicated on self-preservation and it comes down to being adaptive. We must be keen to what’s happening around us and prepared to react appropriately to any trial. Evolution has made it difficult for humans to simply shake off the physical and emotional effects of trauma, but we all have the innate capacity to organically restore our own inner balance. Absorbed negative energy can be detrimental to our health, making us inefficient and more vulnerable to future stress.

What are you holding onto that’s preventing you from returning to the herd? What is keeping you in place, at risk, or in peril? Life is tough. You never know if a cheetah is lurking in the bushes waiting to attack. The next time something confronts you, terrifies you, or chases you to the point of exhaustion, don’t just collapse and surrender. Get back up and shake it off! Let go of whatever you’re carrying around that no longer serves you. Shake off the fear of failure, the anxiety of the unknown, the soreness of the sprint, the ordeal of a near miss. Don’t let a setback paralyze you. Shake it off and move on.

In the midst of challenge it’s easy to lose sight of the beauty before us. Look to the horizon…the sun is still shining and the grass is still growing across the plain, so get back out there and enjoy it! Be the gazelle.

About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and her research is based on the study of mindfulness. You can contact her at sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

Overcoming the odds

My dad and I after the surgery

About 5 years ago my father was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was a heavy drinker in his younger days and his cirrhosis compounded his medical issues. Over these 5 years he has gone through chemotherapy, radiation, and a litany of drugs to stabilize his liver. 9 months ago he was finally cancer-free and was then able to be on the transplant list for a new liver. A few weeks ago we received a call that a new liver came in and he needed to be at the hospital as soon as he could. My dad said he felt strange about it and had mixed emotions about the process. “How can I live because someone else has died?” I can’t imagine the competing values he had to deal with. The surgery went better than expected and the transplant was successful.  When the doctor pulled the liver out he said he didn’t know how my dad was still alive. He barely had a few inches left of a functioning liver.

What’s different about dad now than before his surgery is his zeal for life. He has always been a very happy and positive person, but something has changed for him. He told me the other day on the phone that he has “a second chance at life.” It got me thinking. What if I lived like I had a second chance at life? How much happier and productive could I be if I lived like this? So go out and make the best of everything. You never know how much you can accomplish with the right mindset

“The Happiest people don’t have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything.”

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