Tag Archives: Happiness

2013: Making Dreams Instead of Resolutions

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“Make dreams, not resolutions” was a slogan I saw in my Twitter stream recently, and I’ve been quite captivated by the thought.  In that spirit, I offer these few words of encouragement as we head into a new year that—despite looming fiscal cliffs and on-going worldwide strife—is, as always, full of hope and new possibilities.

Resolutions are Duties, Dreams are passions

As a planner by nature, I’m a huge believer in setting goals and establishing plans.  Yet, oddly enough, this doesn’t extend to New Year’s resolutions.  While resolutions are a type of goal or plan, somehow there’s something very downcast and difficult about “resolutions.”  Too often, they seem to be about “giving up” something, rather than moving toward something with vigor and spirit—a duty or obligation rather than a passion.  This is why, I think, resolutions often go by the wayside after only a few days or weeks.  They don’t elevate our hopes or engage our dreams.

We all can be more organized, or manage our time better, or be more focused, or more responsive, or stop doing this or start doing that.  Those are all on our checklist as mature adults—and we should do our best to improve in each area.  But in terms of charting a path for the new year, they’re not going to truly inspire many of us.  What if, instead, our goal was to dream a new dream, or to re-invigorate an old one … even if it’s one that might strike some as impractical or unrealistic?  Maybe so—but that’s ok.  It’s your passion, and who knows where it might lead?

What If

… you gave yourself permission to pursue your love of foreign cultures by Continue reading

Unleashing Potential

Do you have employees who you are penning into a limited role — but whose skills and background (if not current position) enable them to contribute great things to your organization, if only “discovered” and given the chance to excel?

An under-employed friend recently shared her frustration at not being permitted to contribute at the level which she is capable. Empathizing with her plight (one that is shared by millions), I wonder whether companies need to attend more directly to this post-recession phenomenon.  Is there a way to unleash the potential of this vast untapped reservoir of talent, energy, and ideas?

Point of Reference: The Survey Says

While pondering this, I noticed that SHRM’s latest national job satisfaction survey included a shocker.  For the first time, “opportunities to use skills and abilities” displaced job security (63% to 61%) as the most important aspect of job satisfaction.   The bottom line: we want to be secure, but even more than that, we want to be fulfilled in our work.  President Kennedy once defined happiness as “the full use of one’s talents along lines of excellence.” In this way, we all want to be “happy.”

Recognize These People?

Do any of these folks work at your company?

  • MBA-educated customer service rep—She has fifteen years of prior professional experience, but when she makes process improvement suggestions, she’s told “We tried that once and it didn’t work” (with the unstated subtext being, “Besides, managers make those kind of decisions here”).
  • Non-degreed manager—You’re happy to have him managing the day-to-day HR affairs of your large retail operation (keeping you out of expensive lawsuits on a daily basis)—but when it comes to managing a high-visibility nationwide project, those are tacitly reserved for designated “high potential” (degreed) junior executives only.
  • Receptionist-Playwright—Did you know that your friendly receptionist spent a dozen years as a budget analyst and project manager for a major bank and, in her spare time, is a playwright who founded and leads her own non-profit, community theatre group?

If so, you may have individuals who are vastly under-employed—i.e., highly under-utilized assets.

Unleashing Potential

So, what can be done?  Each company and individual circumstance is different, of course —but just using the three examples above, how would it improve your organization’s performance if …

  • You sought out the MBA-educated customer service rep, let her know that you appreciated her process-improvement suggestions, and you wanted her to keep them coming.  Separately, you ensure that the status-quo manager changes their tune and opens up to change in no uncertain terms.
  • You realize that you’ve advertised a senior HR director role for months without success—all the while possibly having an ideal candidate in-house.  You loosen the degree requirements, focus on who can truly do the job, and invite the non-degreed HR manager in for a serious interview / career planning discussion.
  • You’re reorganizing a chronically under-performing department and are about to advertise for a project manager to lead the effort.  Then, you remember the receptionist’s background and wonder if this is the sort of thing she has done in a past life.  When she jumps at the opportunity and hits the ground running, you smile in satisfaction (and relief at finally solving the problem).

With managers at all levels just as overwhelmed as their employees—having little time to think deeply about the latent skills, talents, and experience of their employees—the “what if” above might strike some as unrealistic.  But what if it’s not?  It might just take some time and a  commitment to dig a little deeper to see answers that might be right in front of us.

The Power of Clarity

Are our managers weighed down by doubts about their roles and the organization’s purposes? Simple clarity can help release powerful performance.

I was reminded again last week how important it is for organizations to communicate clear roles and purposes.  Simply knowing where the organization is going and what it expects of you dramatically affects how you feel about—and how you do—your job.  So simple … and so easy to forget.

The Situation

As I was helping a group of front-line supervisors implement a new performance evaluation system, the question of “trust” kept coming up.  At first, it was difficult to get a handle on what exactly the issue was.  I kept talking about how the system would free them to coach, mentor, and support their employees—and they kept asking, “Really?”

The system itself was pretty simple, so I was confused, until it finally became clear that they weren’t questioning the system—only their role in it.  The “really” was, “Are you sure that the organization really wants us spending our time coaching and mentoring? They’re really going to let us do that?”

Clearly there was some emotional baggage to overcome before any new system could take hold.

The History

In the last ten or so years, they had experienced a number of short-term leaders.  With each new leader—some more communicative than others—the role of the front-line supervisor had shifted, leaving them confused and dispirited.  The common theme, Continue reading

Falling Leaves and Tidying Up

Autumn provides the opportunity to tidy up our haven't-quite-gotten-to-it lists before the rush of the holidays is upon us

The falling leaves — announcing the changing of the seasons — have brought to mind the question of “wrapping up” certain activities and preparing for what’s ahead.

Tidying Up the Sidewalk
Earlier this week, I stepped outside to stretch my legs and enjoy a moment of the beautiful autumn afternoon, the sunshine giving off a golden glow. Passing a row of twin homes near our office, I exchanged greetings with an older gentleman I often see on my walks. A distinguished fellow of dignified bearing, I noticed that he was attending to the manicured patch of grass and sidewalk in front of his home with his usual care.

It struck me that my neighborhood friend’s task was symbolic of good advice for all of us this time of year – tidy up, and prepare for the next season.

Wrapping Up … Doesn’t That Feel Good!
I would venture that most of us have a few things on our I-haven’t-quite-gotten-around-to-it list.  Things that aren’t necessarily the most pleasant nor enjoyable to do – but which if we finally got them done, would take a mental “load” off our minds.  No one ever gets to everything on their list, of course … but here is some encouragement to check off a least a few items!  (C’mon … you can do it!).

Keeping things on the professional side (but realizing we all probably have a similar list in our personal lives, as well), below are a few examples of things-not-quite-done.   The list will vary amongst HR generalists and VP’s, front-line supervisors and CEO’s, of course.  Regardless of position, though, there are still 6 or 8 weeks left before holiday parties and celebrations with family and friends are upon us – time enough to make a dent on things like …

  • HR Generalists: the I-9, or COBRA, or FLSA audits that need to be done but – since “we haven’t gotten sued yet” – for which higher priorities have arisen every time we “meant” to tackle these tasks.  Checking one of these off the list will help protect your organization in a very meaningful way.
  • Recruiters: the hard-to-fill job for which you’ve almost convinced yourself qualified candidates don’t exist.  Taking a fresh look and making a renewed effort on this opening would take a great weight off of two people – yourself, and the hiring manager who really needs the position filled to move his or her operation forward.
  • HR VP’s/Leaders: the global PHR certification exam that you’ve been meaning to sign up and sit for.  You’ve been dealing with international issues for years.  You’re confident in your knowledge.  You know it would be a nice final element to cement your professional credentials. It’s true that the XYZ project is coming to fruition right when the exam is scheduled.  Sign up anyway.
  • Organizational Leaders: the under-performer on your team you need to address.  You know you have a highly-competent, exemplary leadership team … except for Harry, who’s a great guy and a trusted friend – just not a skilled manager.  You’ve been meaning to have “the conversation” with him.  They’ll never be “a good time” and it’s impossible to “let him down easy.” Have the conversation any way.  The team will improve; so will everyone working under Harry.  You’ll feel better … and so will he.

Looking Forward

If we don’t take a few moments – or hours, or days – when the time is available, we risk having snow cover the fallen leaves, making it all that much harder to clean up, put in order, and clear a path for the future. Consider this a huge dose of friendly encouragement – and a nudge or two – to do what we need to do.

What Managers Can Learn From Dental Hygienists


Sitting in the dentist’s chair during a routine appointment this morning, it struck me that in almost four decades of dental visits,  every dental hygienist I had ever met had  almost exactly the same demeanor.  Not one single time had a hygienist been anything other than upbeat, personable, attentive, and caring.

That’s quite remarkable, I think. Like everyone else,  I’ve had waiters who were personable and engaging, and those who were grouchy and withdrawn; sales clerks who were enthusiastic and helpful, and those who were sullen and unaccommodating; etc. What could account for this consistency among hygienists?  I think that part of the answer, oddly enough, may help managers increase the performance of their team members.

 Characteristics Held in Common

Given this commonality among their temperaments, I have to assume that hiring hygienists is directly based on these characteristics (after considering their technical competence, of course).  However, that’s not the thing that is necessarily instructive.

As dental hygiene is a care-giving field, it only makes sense that it would attract care-giving personalities.  I suspect, though, that there must be other factors coming into play to sustain the near-universal contentment that hygienists seem to bring to their work – such as:

  1. A positive outlook — coming from their knowledge that Continue reading

9-11: Hope and Healing

Tribute lights representing the World Trade Center in New York City (photograph by DiGitAL Gold)

As I write this, ceremonies are underway marking the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Former New York Mayor, Rudy Guiliani, is reading from Ecclesiastes:

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven;
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time plant and a time to reap;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up …

It strikes me that after tragic events — whether in the life of an individual, or an organization, or of a society — there are moments that occur and images that are created which serve as symbols of hope and vehicles of healing.  So often, these images aren’t spurred by leaders, but by “ordinary” people.  Here are a few examples:

The Power of Images: Raising the Flag

For the Greatest Generation, after coming through the rigors of World War II, there was perhaps no greater symbol of resolve and triumph than the iconic photo showing the Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

For the 9-11 generation, there is perhaps no greater symbol of the hope of tomorrow and the resolve to rebuild than the photograph of firemen raising a flag amidst the ashes of a still-smoldering Ground Zero — eerily reminiscent, as it was, of both the Iwo Jima photo as well as Francis Scott Key‘s immortal words:

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

(photograph by Thomas E. Franklin, The Bergen Record)

One of the beauties of baseball is that, like life, you get the chance to try again tomorrow.  In a very powerful way, baseball helped the people of New York find some measure of hope and healing in the days after 9-11.  On September 21, 2001, the New York Mets were scheduled to play the Atlanta Braves in the first Continue reading

The Values We Bring To Work: A Shoemaker’s Tale

The author's grandfather in his shoe repair shop, circa 1986

A chance encounter with a friendly shoemaker in New York City earlier this week got me to thinking about the personal values we bring to work.  This gentleman — who, to my amazement, offered to fix my shoe while I waited (!) … and then proceded to do exactly that, with great care and expertise — reminded me in several ways of my late grandfather, who began his career as a shoemaker as a 9-year old boy in Sicily.  He emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920’s, opening his own shoe repair shop in Elmhurst, Queens a few decades later, which is where our story begins …

Leather dust, Italian opera, and lunchtime culture lessons

My grandfather was a kind, proud, hard-working, happy man with strong hands, and fingers blackened by 75 years of working with leather.  He enjoyed his work, and put his heart into fixing his customers’ shoes to “as good as new” every time.  But leather soles, heels, and taps weren’t the only things on offer in his shop — or even the main reason many of his regular customers came by the shop. 

With operatic music in the background, he was always eager to share a story, ponder a bit of philosphy, or inquire about your family — in heavily accented English accompanied by a warm smile. While shoemaking was his profession, helping people — with a word of support, a twinkle in the eye, or a hand of friendship — was his vocation, and he practiced it every day, day after day, year after year, well into his eighties, in that little shop in Queens.

Succeeding Generations, Same Values

It was that vocation — of using his work to help people in ways large and small — that he passed down to my father, who passed it down to me.  Though the context has changed — from a shoe repair shop, to  Continue reading