Category Archives: Encouragement

The Wisdom of Others

After trying and mostly succeeding to post once per week for most of the past eighteen months or so, I’ve hit a bit of a dry patch – letting more than two weeks pass since my last post.  It’s been somewhat of a tumultuous period in our office, which has left me a bit tentative regarding my reflections and observations.  This too shall pass, as they say, I’m sure.

In the meantime, though, I recall a wise person telling me, “When you’re struggling with something, it’s often helpful to go beyond yourself – to change your mindset by focusing on helping others.”  Very good advice, indeed.  To that end, I wanted to share with you brief notes on four fellow members of the HR/leadership blogging community from whose wisdom I have benefited greatly over the past few years.  They’re each deeply thoughtful and intuitive about different aspects of the human condition we call “leadership” or “management,” and it is a privilege to recommend them to you.

  • Young Leaders – John Demma is a young manager who writes insightfully about what it is like to be a young manager – the struggle to learn the craft of guiding and motivating others, balancing just-learned grad school lessons with the realities of the school of hard knocks that is the real world of business, and juggling it all with the pressures and joys of a young family.  Written with an authentic, earnest voice, John posts regularly at On Becoming A Leader.
  • Day-to-Day Management, Part I – As someone who struggles to write anything in less than 700 words, I greatly respect those amongst us who can get to the point and regularly share three or four helpful nuggets of advice in 300 words or so – and do it five days a week, to boot.  Experienced executive and blogger, Stephen Meyer, is just such a person.  With a been-there-done-that credibility, he shares immediately useful suggestions for managing employees, organizations, and HR issues at HR Café.
  • Day-to-Day Management , Part II – In a similar vein, Sharlyn Lauby, aka The HR Bartender, speaks with the authenticity of someone who has been through the wars and survived to tell the tale – but always with a upbeat, forward-looking take on things that is nothing short of refreshing and inspiring.  Similar in nature to HR Café in a number of ways (down to the food metaphor), Sharlyn somehow manages to offer her practical, eminently insightful advice and perspectives – without the world-weary skepticism or snarkiness that often infects other HR blogs — on a daily basis at HR Bartender.
  • Executive Leadership – For rising leaders, or those who advise and guide them, executive coach and leadership expert, Scott Eblin, is absolutely required reading.  A former Fortune-500 HR Vice President at a young age, Scott now advises leaders around the world who are striving to get to the Next Level (the name of both his book and his blog).  Scott has a remarkable ability to view current events through the prism of leadership and offer three or four insights you can use every time out.  He can be found at Next Level Blog.

New Year’s Hopes, Plans, and Dreams

The turning of the calendar page to a new year is traditionally a time for taking stock, considering the future, and resolving to pursue anew our hopes, plans, and dreams.  In this spirit, I wanted to share two brief anecdotes about looking forward with a hope-filled spirit.

“Rapidly Improving”

A number of years ago, I had the good fortune of working with an attorney representing our office in Puerto Rico who was undoubtedly one of the most “glass half full” thinkers I have ever met.  When exchanging pleasantries upon meeting (in person or by phone), Tristan would invariably respond to the question, “How are you? or “How’s it going?” with “Very well, thank you — and rapidly improving! How are you?”

“… And rapidly improving.” Fifteen years later, I can still see, hear, and feel the smile on his face and in his voice when he would say this. I’ve always thought it quite remarkable.  Mr. Reyes was a labor attorney, a serious and accomplished man who wrestled with difficult and often unpleasant risks, concerns, and dilemmas every day.  Yet, in his speech and in his manner, he conveyed a belief that all good things were on the horizon – and if troubles did come his way, he was confident that he would work through them and come out the other side stronger for the struggle.  All of that packed into one little phrase and a smile (along with the subtly re-affirming implication that part of the ‘rapidly improving’ part came from getting to interact with you that day).

May the new year bring us many upbeat encounters with remarkable people such as Tristan – along with the ability to convey such positive beliefs to all who come into contact with us.

“Let’s Go Exploring”

As a big fan of the daily comics, it was with sadness that I read Bill Watterson’s last “Calvin and Hobbes” strip on January 1, 1996.  (For those unfamiliar with the comic strip, it followed the adventures – real and imagined – of 6-year boy-wonder Calvin and his confidante and partner-in-crime, the stuffed toy tiger, Hobbes).  Mr. Watterson honored the strip’s best purposes with a final entry of great whimsy, innocence, hope, and childlike expectation that I’ve always felt was a wonderful and fitting image and message for the new year.  Returning Calvin and Hobbes to one of their favorite settings, a childhood paradise of freshly-driven snow and endless possibilities, here’s what he drew:

(CLICK HERE for a larger, clearer version of the strip)

May we all “go exploring” with hope, heart, and eagerness and experience good and great adventures and joys this year.  Happy New Year to all!

Hearing Evident Truths

The firm I work for has recently received numerous requests from clients to assist them with employee surveys.  My experience is that the difficulty with employee surveys is not conducting them, but truly listening to the results — a truth that was reinforced to me while watching the classic holiday program, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Linus Speaks Up

Towards the end of the program, ever-beleaguered Charlie Brown — despairing over the commercialization of Christmas — asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  His wise friend, Linus, steps forward calmly and confidently and gives an answer for the ages (click here):

It strikes me that Linus’ answer, like so many organizational truths, was known to all — but unspoken but by a few.  It took someone willing to ask the question … and someone willing to say what everyone was thinking … for the answer to come forth.

Missing the “Ah-Ha” Moment

A company I worked for used to conduct an employee survey every year about this time.  For several years, they received consistent answers to a number of questions surrounding “What can we do to improve the company?” Responses were invariably to the effect of, “Communication between managers and employees is very poor,” “The company doesn’t seem to have a clear direction,” “I personally like my manager, but people don’t have a lot of confidence in the management team in general,” and the like.

Unfortunately, rather than trying to solve the communication and confidence issues that the employees identified, the management team — hurt and perplexed by the perennially negative results — decided to discontinue the survey.  (Yes — a heavy sigh, indeed.  They did have a penchant for learning the wrong lesson, I‘m afraid).

A Hopeful Ending

The story above — albeit all too common, I’m afraid — isn’t the only possible conclusion to these issues, of course.  To end where we began, the closing scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas offers a dose of hope that groups that wish to learn from evident truths can do so.  After Linus’ heartfelt proclamation, the Peanuts gang has a chance to reflect of what he’s said and, one by one, they reconsider their views on a symbolically important issue — the beauty of Charlie Brown’s scraggly but noble tree.  In the end, the tree is given tender loving care and it “grows” into a true thing of beauty as the group gathers around it for a heartwarming hymn.

Once spoken out loud, Linus’ wisdom was taken to heart and behaviors changed. Here’s wishing that each of us can help our leadership teams to seek out, embrace, and act on the evident truths in our organizations in the coming year.  Happy New Year to all!

A Time of Gifts and Miracles

In my faith tradition and others, the holiday season is a time of great anticipation and preparation; a time of hope and of hopes fulfilled; a time of gifts, and a time of miracles.  These are my wishes for each of us …

… that we may prepare diligently for the tasks that are before us, and that we might look forward with great eagerness and anticipation to new adventures large and small in the new year

… that we never lose heart, always keeping hope and wonder alive, and that our fondest wishes might come to fulfillment in ways we could never expect

… that we share our gifts freely with those around us; and that we might recognize, encourage, and cherish the gifts others share with us

… that we experience a world of miracles that transform us into our better selves, always.

These are my hopes and wishes for us – both professionally and personally – this holiday season.  May peace and contentment be yours.

Servant Leadership: Exuding Gladness, Humility, and Hope

Is exuding gladness, humility, and hopeful expectation an important part of servant leadership?

Last Sunday, I had the privilege of attending a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York that was led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan.  It was a special experience (complete with incense, full choir, pipe organ, etc.), especially coming during the Advent season (the period of preparation and anticipation leading up to Christmas).  I appreciated it deeply on a personal, religious level.  What I’d like to share with you today, though, are the leadership notes that I drew from the archbishop’s presence.

The Servant Leader

Archbishop Dolan cuts a large presence, both in physical stature (he looks like he could easily have been a Division I lineman in college) and personality – clearly gregarious and vibrant in nature, smiling broadly and constantly and engaging the congregation in ways large and small, more than holding his own against the backdrop of the grand gothic cathedral.  Observing him in this setting for the hour-long Mass, several  servant-leader characteristics stood out to me – none of which require a dramatic setting or a high position in the hierarchy, and all of which Continue reading

Gifts and Performance Leaps

How would it affect performance and satisfaction if everyone gave themselves a gift this year?

I recently wrote about “tidying up” our  HR to-do lists before the end of the year. I’d like to extend that thought today to the entire organization in a way that, if implemented, could cause a “quantum leap” in performance.

The Power of One

Even the most determined among us tend to get discouraged or overwhelmed when our “to-do” list gets too long. (I remember being a young HR person so overwhelmed with paperwork that I could measure the stack on my desk in feet rather than items!). But what if we had only one task for the rest of the year?

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we put aside all of our responsibilities and focus solely on this one thing (at which point we could expect to be unceremoniously added to the nation’s dismal unemployment numbers). Rather, what if we took our day-to-day tasks as a given, but then identified one thing that would really make a difference in our work lives (maybe our personal lives, too), and in the life of the organization, and then did that one thing?

The Manager’s Speech

What if when you walked into the office on Monday morning 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.