Author Archive

The Beauty of Diversity

I recently took a class on human resource management and one of my favorite topics of study was around diversity. Not only is diversity a critical part of employment law, but it can be hugely beneficial to the strategy and success of an organization. Those companies that can move beyond compliance alone toward embracing and even leveraging our differences will find that they are fostering better workplace cultures, developing more satisfied employees, generating a healthier bottom line, and ultimately making a more positive impact on our world.

Everyday I am inspired by the incredible people around me – friends, family members, and colleagues alike. I can’t help but be grateful for their lives, and particularly the ways in which we are different. I’m not just referring to the color of our skin, nationality, religion, etc…but what makes us tick. Like the longtime girlfriend of mine who challenges my left brain tendencies by constantly generating creative new ideas; visionary is simply a part of who she is. Or the family acquaintance whom I just learned through Facebook is a brilliant musician; he just produced his own music video, in which he plays the guitar, piano, drums, and sings in different segments – who knew! Or my coworker, a fellow project manager, who recently volunteered to facilitate a workshop on career planning at our annual all-company meeting. Amazing! Isn’t it inspiring to see others in their sweet spot?

This sounds so simple, and yet oftentimes I think it is easy to forget; it is easy to lose sight of why our differences should be embraced. Organizations, leaders, individual contributors – people in general – are constantly trying to influence others to see things their way. Of course there are times when that is necessary; without both the leader and follower roles nothing would be accomplished. Yet the reminder here is that, in the end, we weren’t made to be all the same. We are all unique, and our differences produce a collective, even synergistic beauty that could never be realized otherwise. Let’s face it – and I will be the first to admit – life would be pretty dull with just a bunch of Michelles running around! We need those who can imagine, those who can create, those who can analyze, those who can build, those who can wonder, and those who can execute. We simply need each other.

People have so much to bring to the table, sometimes more than they realize. The strengths, gifts, talents, curiosities, and hobbies of others make us all better, stronger, and wiser. Weaknesses even have a place at the table – they can foster a culture of learning, authenticity, and compassion. Based on the research from my class, I took away several key benefits of diversity in the workplace, such as the ability to generate greater creativity in products and client solutions given the larger pool of life experience to draw from, the ability to market to a greater, more diverse customer base, and the ability to attract and retain the best talent out there, to name a few. All of this can generate increased employee engagement and more instances where people are working on activities that transcend time and money – activities that simply produce joy (or intrinsic satisfaction) by working on them.

I think it’s easy to fall into my-way-is-the-best-way tendencies; we trust ourselves and know we’ll do the best job, right? But doing so deprives us of a world of creative opportunity, learning, and growth. As we continue opening ourselves up to others and learning what makes them tick, as well as sharing our own passions, let’s celebrate our collective beauty and remember that we need each other, always.

I would love to get your thoughts on this…  How have you or your organization encouraged diversity and helped others to thrive by using their various gifts?

Thank you for your comments!

With Greater Leadership Comes Greater Expectation

Like many, my college experience provided the opportunity to make friends and interact with some fascinating people – classmates whom I admire and respect more than they will ever know. We all had our dreams and aspirations, then graduation day came and we parted ways, ready to pursue our passions and make a positive difference in this world. We were ready and willing to be the best leaders we could be, prepared to serve others, stand behind our beliefs, and utilize the tools we had acquired – at least as far as our toolbox would take us.

What began as one such dream for a few of these classmates turned into an international charitable organization employing dozens of staff members, enlisting hundreds of volunteers, and impacting countless lives around the world. This past week, something happened to this organization that changed everything: it garnered global media attention virtually overnight. This organization is known as Invisible Children.

You may be familiar with the latest media blitz surrounding this non-profit and their viral video, Kony 2012. The team posted the video last Monday, hoping for 500,000 views by the end of the year. Yet what they received was far beyond their wildest dreams: 52 million views in just four days…and over 78 million views as I write this. This has led to an outpouring of news articles, TV interviews, blog posts, enormous praise, and even a severe backlash of criticism from people around the world, across nearly every major media entity from the Wall Street Journal to TMZ.

Wow. These young leaders must be feeling so many emotions. I would imagine they are thrilled beyond belief to have their message heard by so many people, yet fearful and/or frustrated by the criticism, and perhaps even nervous by the overwhelming attention in general. The international fame happened nearly overnight. Yet whether they were ready or not, this organization and its leaders will forever be held to a higher standard. Their leadership, or perhaps more importantly, others’ perception of their leadership, has been forever changed.

You see, whether we agree with it or not, leading at higher levels requires a new level of perseverance. The higher we go, the more others expect of us. It may not seem fair, but it is a reality. When you reach a certain level of fame, fortune, or position, opposition becomes inevitable. People will take shots at you, even when you know you’re doing the right thing. Observers will scrutinize your every action just because they can.

As leaders – leaders who are continuously growing and likely aspiring to reach new levels of leadership – we must always remember this. As our ability to influence others and our capacity to act as role models increases, we must expect that higher standards, albeit often unspoken, will be placed over us. As we continuously strive for moral and ethical excellence, we must trust that we’re doing the right thing, even in the face of criticism. And as we responsibly persevere, we must remember the expectation – and the privilege – that the more we receive, the more we must give; the more we lead, the more we must serve.

Our individual leadership journeys may never reach the level that Invisible Children has as an organization (or perhaps they will!), but regardless, the lesson is the same for all. Leadership simply gets tougher the higher you go and the more lives you touch. Not that my opinion matters in this case, but I am enormously proud of my classmates, grateful for their generous work, and fully confident that they will continue to do amazing things for this world… They’ll face a higher level of scrutiny and more forceful opposition, but as with all great leaders, this will ultimately only strengthen their resolve and improve their effectiveness.

Thank you for your Comments!

Leader as Servant

Who is the servant-leader? The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first. – Robert K. Greenleaf 

I recently had the opportunity to take a course on servant leadership. Its impact on my life was greater than I had anticipated. In today’s world where society continually encourages us to seek fame, fortune, or power for ourselves, servant leadership challenges us to something much greater…and perhaps even more difficult to pursue.
As human beings, I think we naturally have a tendency to think about ourselves; we desire protection and well-being. But our culture feeds this – often distorts it – by telling us to only look out for Number One. Our sense of self becomes the priority across all aspects of life. In the workplace, for example, we often crave leadership. We desire to rise to the top as quickly as possible. Our educational institutions prepare us to climb corporate ladders and become the “leaders of tomorrow.” Personally, we feel we’ve earned it; we deserve something for all our hard work in school and in the workplace, right?
Yet servant leadership challenges all of this. It calls us to higher levels of leadership where the self is no longer king, and others become the priority. It stands in stark contrast to the sense of entitlement we often assume. Given today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, each of us has more power at our fingertips than ever before. Yet the irony is that this individual empowerment has disconnected us in a sense; we have become somewhat removed from our sense of community. Servant leadership encourages us to face this – to take the focus off of ourselves and to truly put others’ needs first as we nurture relationships and foster community. In fact, it calls us to love and to serve others so much that out of that a desire for leadership is born…not the other way around.
It’s interesting…  In general, but particularly in light of our recent recession, it seems as though people are sharing about what is most important in life, more than ever before. Often it boils down to relationships and love. If that is the case, then those things should matter in the workplace as well. Servant leadership offers a revolutionary yet timeless approach to satisfying this need. It fosters trust, teamwork, and collaboration; it revives the sense of connectedness so often lost on our competitive world.
One of my favorite quotes from this class was the following by Studs Terkel:
Work is…about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.  
Our world can be a broken place, especially in the workplace. Our endless striving to take care of Number One can be exhausting. But isn’t it amazing how serving others can bring light? Hope? That seems to be the magic of servant leadership. It encourages us to give, to love, to build up, and to cheer each other on in a way that is sustainable. It seems crazy, but perhaps relinquishing our “all about me” mentality can actually be of greater benefit to ourselves, personally?
It has been fascinating to see more and more companies employ this model as their core organizational philosophy around the world. It is inspiring to see more managers desire to invest in the growth, development, and well-being of their direct-reports, and to see more individual contributors grow into leadership positions because of their desire to serve first. And even more, regardless of title or position, it is inspiring to see more of us serve one another – colleague to colleague – as we live out Terkel’s statement and create a Monday through Friday sort of living for one another.
Thank you for your Comments!



The Awkward Phase

At some point as a little girl, probably around the age of seven or eight, I decided it was perfectly normal to tell people I was going through my “awkward phase.” It is that inevitable phase in our youth perhaps many of you experienced, where you’re in between sizes, your teeth haven’t decided which way they want to go, and there is no guarantee that your foot will actually make contact with the ball during a routine game of soccer. I’m sure I picked up the funny saying from my dear mother and father, thinking it was simply a matter of fact to be shared with others. While I laugh about this now, it does remind me of another life stage that we go through, worthy of a similar name: our 20’s.

What an awkward phase this can be! After nearly two decades of school, all structure is lost. We graduate from college and our world suddenly opens up. The paradigms we have accepted and mastered are no longer relevant. We begin to question what’s next, and realize both the power and the trepidation behind this overwhelming notion. It is yet another “in between” stage where we must make the leap from being handed a path to carving our own. We must face the often harsh reality that is the real world without ever having been taught how to do so, and become the “leaders of tomorrow” with zero direction for perhaps the first time in our lives.

Yet we must not lose hope! Professionally, our 20’s can be a roller coaster of soul-searching, excitement, growth, insecurity, setbacks, confusion – you name it. But whether we are ready or not, we are the next generation of leaders. While I am by no means an expert in this area (and, truthfully, am still living it!) this unique journey has taught me to remember three things in particular:

1. Seek work with meaning and purpose: Find something you believe in, something you can be proud of. Tap into the intrinsic motivators in your life. Go beyond the extrinsic; paychecks and perks will only provide so much satisfaction. We will spend at least a third of our lives in the workplace, so search for something that brings meaning to you – a place where you feel you are making a positive difference in the world.

2. Never stop learning: Be inquisitive. Meet new people – people different from yourself. Seek mentors. Ask questions, even dumb ones! Don’t feign competence where it doesn’t exist – be coachable and soak up as much as you can from those who have gone before you. A lack of knowledge is not a weakness – it is an opportunity to grow.

3. Be patient and give yourself grace: None of us will rise to the top and “have it all figured out” by 30. In fact, we will never reach that point. Our careers are not a destination, but a journey – an adventure. Like the rest of life, our 20’s help to create our story. Patience and grace through our high highs and low lows generate an authenticity that will make us more effective down the road.

These are just a few of the lessons I have learned along the way… What are yours? 

Thanks for sharing! 


The Work-School Balance

Today’s posting goes out to all those working professionals who may have underestimated their boundaries to the point of no return – and who may be questioning their sanity on a regular basis. I am talking about the working student. Do I have any sympathizers out there?

You know how it goes: Work a very busy day, challenged by curveballs left and right, tired at the end of it, but wait – you’ve got that second wind, just enough to buy groceries or squeeze in a quick workout – only to race home, hoping that your third wind kicks in with enough energy to start a research paper? But wait! There’s more. You get to do it all over again tomorrow.

Over the last eleven months, I have been working toward a degree through an all-online program. I’m sure I speak for thousands of others when I say this is no easy feat. Hundreds of pages of weekly reading, library and online research, a paper due every other week, virtual group projects, online exams, and mandatory discussion forum posts all in addition to, well, life, including the responsibility of being a working professional.

Week nights often consist of motivational self-pep talks: “You’re not too tired – you can totally do this!” Or, the bribe: “If you just finish these 70 pages, you get to watch Survivor!” The weekends are even better: “I’m so excited – I get a whole Saturday to catch up!” My husband is even into the incentives now: “You can do it, hun, just one more discussion question then it’s time for The Amazing Race!” We don’t have kids yet, but I can imagine the work/school balance is exponentially more challenging for those who do!

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

All of that said, I have to be honest… Despite the organized chaos that the last eleven months have been, I’m going to be a little bit sad when it all comes to an end next summer. Once my initial panic subsided about a month into the program, my days became filled with constant learning, a deeper thirst for knowledge, a broader worldview, the continued reminder to be inquisitive and to think critically, and a greater appreciation for others’ views, particularly those that are different from mine.

For these reasons I hope my learning never ends, because I truly believe it is a defining quality that sets leaders apart. The greatest leaders in my life have been those with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. They embrace change, always look to discover something new, and aren’t afraid to adapt when needed. They willingly accept feedback. Leaders are always looking for ways to challenge themselves – to take risks – even if it brings the possibility of failure. They seek wisdom from those who have gone before them; they aren’t afraid to ask questions. A lack of knowledge is not viewed as a weakness, but rather as an opportunity to grow.

I hope we all never stop learning.


Workplace Fanatics

End of November.  It’s that time of year.  Football season is in full swing.  High school playoffs are just starting; college rankings shuffle as teams vie for that BCS Championship spot; Super Bowl predictions are taking shape for the NFL.  People are going all out – they can’t help it.  Gatherings are being planned; the chips and dip are ready to go.  Fantasy competitions are coming down to the wire and mid-week Madden is played just to pass the time.  That inexplicable game-day excitement is in the air. 

There’s a buzz…an energy.  Fans are pumped.

Then there’s the look – it’s all about the ensemble, the superstitions.  There’s the lucky T-shirt.  The favorite scarf.  The colorful face paint.  The faithful hat.  Or the unthinkable – the playoff beard.   There is no stopping the dedicated fan.

Enthusiasm, loyalty, passion, hope, community, allegiance – just some of the adjectives that describe this unique and passionate (borderline obsessive) time of year.

These are also the words that have me begging the question… What if this level of energy were to translate into the workplace?

Can you imagine?  What if we were able to harness all of this energy and release it into our jobs, our companies, our cubicles? 

What would that look like?  Perhaps I’m being idealistic, but my guess is: what we long for it to look like!  It would be a place of purpose, collaboration, productivity, even gratitude – a place where employees believe in the work they do.

Is that you?

I think if we’re truly honest with ourselves, this is our desire.  We want the 40+ hours a week that we work to be for more than just to pay the bills – for something bigger than ourselves, where we really feel like we’re learning and contributing to the betterment of this world.  Like the diehard football fan, we want to be proud of our workplace and represent it with enthusiasm.

Unfortunately this isn’t always reality.  There are tough projects, tough managers, tough clients and limited time.  There are bills to be paid and responsibilities to take care of.  But the first step starts with US – asking ourselves these questions: Am I fulfilled in my professional life?  Is the organization I am with encouraging me to reach my full potential?  Do I believe in its mission?  Even more so, am I doing all I can to stretch myself and contribute to my current organization, to ultimately have it become a place I believe in?

Like the football fan, it’s a two-way street.  We must find that mission we are passionate about, and at the same time once there, we must give it our full commitment to make it a place we can be proud of.

Employee Passion can be a real possibility, but it doesn’t just come about on its own.  Intrinsic value starts with choices – there are decisions to be made.  So ask yourself what you truly want, and go for it 100%.  Paint your face, grow the beard and throw the party!  Let’s find our stadium and become workplace fanatics.

Memoirs of a Goofball

I’ll be honest – I am a total perfectionist and have struggled with this, well, imperfection my entire life.  Everything has to be done just right and anything less than ideal is unacceptable.  Does this story sound familiar to anyone?  You know…you’re your own worst critic and mistakes automatically equate to some version of the unthinkable – “failure?”

While this internal battle may be a lifelong challenge for some of us, there is something else I have come to realize that you may also resonate with.  When all is said and done, beneath the layers of emotion, insecurity and life-shaping experience, I am a certifiable….goofball.  (Yes, that is the technical term.)  Somewhere beneath my futile pursuit of perfection is a silly, goofy person who makes bad jokes, loves to laugh and longs to take herself less seriously. 

When I think about the leaders in my life who have impacted me the most, they are just that – individuals who know how to not take themselves so seriously.  They lead by example and are concerned with doing their best, not the best.  In a sense, they are people who know they are perfectly human.  They do not pretend to have it all figured out, and ultimately cultivate deeper human relationships because of this.

It’s difficult to name a specific person whom we all may see this way, but we each have role models like this in our lives…  Those positive individuals whom people are naturally drawn to?  They seem to exude a personal confidence in themselves, but never pride.  They enjoy self-deprecating humor and are not afraid of mistakes, because it means they are learning and venturing into something new.  And even more, they have a genuine interest in others…

They remind me of what Ken Blanchard, world-renowned leadership author and speaker, always says: “People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less.”  In essence, these leaders don’t sweat the small stuff by taking the focus off of themselves.  They have an incredible way of identifying with people – simply by being real, goofiness and all.  They are refreshingly authentic. 

“Life is a very special occasion,” as Blanchard also says, so let’s delight in our relationships, remember what is important and not take ourselves so seriously. 

It’s time to embrace your inner-goofball.

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