Rooted in Your Reality

Rooted in Your Reality

In a recent class, one of our participants was responding to the concept of reflection.  He said, “I wish that it were more acceptable.  It seems like responding quickly is rewarded.  It means you’re smart, on top of it, and unafraid to speak up.  Obviously, a leader.  Responding more slowly or pausing to reflect on your response has somehow come to mean that you’re calculating and formulating your response to make yourself look good.” 

I wasn’t surprised, and it worried me that pausing even for a few seconds to respond caused individuals to feel suspicious about that person’s intent. 

Going slow goes against everything society is telling us; move fast or get left behind.  It seems we somehow have figured out a way to simultaneously pride ourselves on and complain about how many e-mails we’re getting while sitting in a meeting, how many back-to-back meetings we’re going to, the fact that we might only have 20-minutes of “free time” during our day, the fact that we can’t meet a good friend for lunch for a month because our calendars are so full, or how many airplane miles we flew last year.  I’m always confused when someone excitedly says to me, “I’ve been in meetings all day!  I haven’t eaten since my banana this morning.” 

Um… congratulations? 

We seem to be competing in the “Busy Olympics” where the gold medal is more responsibility, a bigger title, and even less time.   

I’m not great at slowing down.  I describe myself as a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser, both of which are not conducive to slowing down.  I’m usually not too far away from my phone which means I’m never fully present with anyone.  It’s hard for me to say no which means at times I push myself into tight (too tight!) time constraints, re-arrange the family schedule, or have to ask for help at the last minute.  I have a real fear of slowing down and I don’t think I’m alone here.

I think the fear of slowing down is rooted in being confronted with our own reality.

The reality of being frustrated at work.
The reality of not feeling seen or heard.
The reality of still battling those feelings of inadequacy.
The reality of being passed up for a project or promotion.
The reality of our relationships.
The reality of kids growing up way too fast.

What does slowing down mean?

It means going against what it seems like everyone else is doing.
It means creating space for those around you.
It means being comfortable with silence.
It means getting better at saying no.
It means creating some stronger boundaries.
It means facing your realities.

For me it means not getting my laptop out at night.  It means not having my phone sitting right next to me.  It means being present and engaged with those closest to me.  It means leaning into conversations that can be painful or difficult and it also means finding time for quiet, so I can think and reflect on life, family and work. 

For me, slowing down means I’m a better me for me.
And for everyone around me.

What would slowing down mean for you?

Leadership Transcends the Role

Leadership Transcends the Role

I recently asked a group that had just wrapped up a leadership class to respond to the question: “What’s the value in this for you?”  One of the participants said, “For me, I’m toward the end of my career.  I used to manage people, but don’t anymore.  This class taught me that leadership isn’t just the title you have.  Leadership transcends the role.” 

Leadership transcends the role. 

That got me thinking that it doesn’t matter where you sit on the org chart.  As a human being, you have the capacity and responsibility to lead from right where you are.  There are a couple skills that with renewed awareness and practice regardless of the title, we should all be working on all the time.

One of those skills is listening.  Not the “I’m making eye contact with you, so it looks like I’m listening, but really, my mind is going a million different ways” kind of listening.  Or my personal favorite, “I’m staring at my (insert screen name), but I’m nodding my head and saying uh-huh a lot” kind of listening. 

I’m talking about the kind of listening that’s so powerful it can be felt.  That person walks away feeling heard, feeling seen, feeling cared for.  Listening is not a passive act. 

Want to practice?  Try this:

  • Turn your screen off and make eye contact.
  • Stop talking.  (Remember?  You’re supposed to be listening.) 
  • Listen to literally every word coming out of their mouth so that you’re able to focus on the other person.  When you’re so focused on the other person it also allows you to quiet your brain and the thoughts going through your head.
  • Ask powerful questions to get them to go a bit deeper and reflect:  “I heard you say XYZ, is that what you meant?”  “Tell me how that made you feel?”  “What’s important about this?”  What’s frustrating about this for you?”    “What are you most proud of?”
  • Acknowledge their feelings.  Don’t dismiss them. Telling someone “you shouldn’t feel that way” is a really good way to tell someone that you don’t have time for them, that you don’t really care about how they’re feeling, that you’re too busy for this and that they need to move on.  Instead try:  “It seems like you’re feeling (insert feeling word), tell me more about that.” “How are you going to move past (insert feeling word)?” 

Listening doesn’t require a title or permission.  It requires you to care.

Another skill available to anyone, anywhere is reflection.  Reflection is a personal and intentional act.  It causes you to pause, to slow down, and to think. 

Reflection is about focusing inward and asking yourself things like:

  • What’s important to me about this?
  • What’s the learning here for me?
  • How did that go?
  • What would I do differently next time?
  • What’s hard about this?
  • What do I want the outcome to be?
  • How do I want to use the skills I just learned?

If you’re thinking that you don’t have time for reflecting, ask yourself one of those questions and then give yourself 10 seconds to write down a response or answer in your head.  Reflection can take as little or as much time as you give it.

What’s so great about reflecting? Stopping to think and reflect puts you in charge of how you show up, how you respond, and how you behave.  We only have control over how we think, feel and behave.  If something is not working, we need to make a different choice and that can only happen when we slow down long enough to reflect.

Don’t wait for a fancy title to “be a leader”. 
Start now.
We’re waiting for you.

Change is Hard

Change is Hard

Because I have the best job in the world, I am able to pick up my son Joey from school almost everyday.  Like anyone who has picked up a child from school, we have a typical interaction when we see each other.

Me:  How was your day? 
Joey:  Fine. 

The other day when I picked up Joey from school, as we were walking to the car, I looked down at him and asked the question.  Instead of saying fine, it went something like this... "Not great... I… I’ll just tell you about it in the car.”  That was a new response and it grabbed my attention.  When we both got into the car, I immediately asked, “What’s up, buddy?”

He looked me in the eye, got very teary and said, “Our sub is the worst.  She’s so mean.  She made my friend stay in for the whole recess.  He didn’t even do anything.  I just wish my old teacher was here.”  (His teacher (who I adore) is on bedrest with Baby #2 on the way for the remainder of the school year.)

If you know me at all, you won’t be surprised that my instant reaction was tears as well.  I really hated seeing my sweet Joey missing his teacher.  That thought was quickly followed by me assuring Joey that I knew his sub isn’t the worst or the meanest.  I reminded him how sometimes kids can really push the boundaries with a sub, so I’m sure she’s frustrated too. 

I’m a fixer.  I don’t want people I love to be sad.  I don’t want my kids to not love their school.  I spent most of the evening thinking about what I was going to tell Joey before school the next morning to make this better or at least not as bad as he thinks it is.  When he came into my bathroom the next morning to brush his teeth, it hit me:

Change is HARD.

I pulled him close to me and said, “Buddy, I struggle with this all the time.  Change is hard.  You got used to how your teacher did things and now they’re different… and that change is really hard.  I get it.”  We sat for a few seconds in quiet and he quietly nodded his head.  In his sweet nine-year old way, I think he took it in.

Change is hard.  Change is especially hard when you disagree, when you think it’s flat-out wrong, or when you know it’s going to negatively impact you or someone you love.  Change sucks.  I used to hate when people would say the only thing you can count on is change.  But, you know what?  It’s true.  So, what do you do when you’re experiencing an unwelcomed change?

Feel it.  Let yourself cry.  Go workout.  Go vent to someone you trust.  Use colorful language if that’s your thing (because who doesn’t love a well-placed F-bomb?).  Some of you might be wondering, what’s important about letting yourself feel it?  Can’t we shove it all down and pretend like everything is fine?  Bottling up does no one any good, especially you.  Eventually (and usually at the wrong time) you will erupt. 

Name It.  What is it exactly that are you feeling about this unwelcome change?  Are you angry?  Frustrated?  Betrayed?  What is it?  Only when you can really give what you’re feeling a name can you decide how you’re going to move forward.

Make a Choice.  Keep feeling all the feelings around this change.  Need to be angry a little longer?  Need to vent some more?  Need to gossip about it?  That’s your choice.  When you’re ready to choose something else, take a deep breath and move on to the last piece.

Ask Yourself.  Literally ask yourself what’s the learning here for me?  Write your response on a piece of paper or in your journal.  You might be surprised what comes up when you slow down long enough to write.  If writing’s not your thing, tell someone about your learning.

Then, pat yourself on the back, take another deep breath and congratulate yourself for surviving another change.

I asked Joey what he thought he might be able to learn from this.  His first response?

“To stay home every time I have a sub?”  (Followed by a laugh.)   I asked the question again and this time he said, “that not everyone is the same.”  That’s the learning. 

Not as Awkward as I Thought

Not as Awkward as I Thought

What are some things you can do to create a space where everyone feels more comfortable to contribute?

Culture Matters

Culture Matters

Culture matters.  Yes, a lot is written about workplace culture these days.  There’s a reason for that:  most places still aren’t getting it.  There are a lot of toxic and harmful cultures out there, leading to employee turnover and lost revenue.  Need a “business case” for why paying attention to your culture is important?  Every time someone leaves your organization you lose money and time. 

What does the culture at Elements Partnership look like?  Let me start by telling you about our core values:

  • We tell the truth.
  • We trust our gut.
  • We make coffee.

But, what do those really mean? 

We tell the truth means that we tell the truth when it’s hard.  In fact, we tell the truth especially when it’s hard.  We don’t just tell you what you want to hear.  We tell the truth from a place of compassion and caring. We tell the truth because we care about your success.

Our second value is “we trust our gut.” Trusting our gut means that we show up with confidence.  We are clear in our purpose.  We often ask people to do things that are uncomfortable for them but we know, in our gut, that they will learn and be changed by the experience.  When we trust our gut we are able to invite people into the learning with a level of confidence that draws people in.

Our final core value is “we make coffee.”  We recognize that some of the most meaningful conversations and life changes happen over coffee (or wine!) with a friend. “We make coffee” is really a metaphor for making sure people have everything they need when they’re in our space.  In our space you will literally have coffee (and a good balance of healthy/junk food) and you will also get the best of us.  We bring warmth, vulnerability, and humor to each of our workshops, knowing that how we show up has a direct impact on the possibilities for others. 

Our company core values are a direct reflection of how we personally show up in the world.  For us, behaving in ways that align with those values is asking us to be us.  If we were people who didn’t believe that taking care of individuals in our space was important, we might be annoyed and frustrated by making coffee, cutting up strawberries and trimming the grapes.  (Yes, that is a thing and yes, we do think about every detail.)  When we hire new people, we need to be able to convey how important our core values are to us so that they can decide for themselves if this is a place they want to invest their time.

Writing your core values on a wall isn’t enough.  What do we mean by what we say?

How would you describe your culture?  Are there particular pain points that you think need to be addressed?  Consider these questions:

  • What are your company’s core values? 
  • Have you actually defined what your core values are?
  • How did you decide on those particular values?
  • How do you know people are living your core values?  Do people behave in ways that        demonstrate those core values? 
  • What do we do when someone isn’t behaving in a way that aligns with our core values?  Do we address is or do we sweep it under the rug?
  • What are your personal values?  Do they align with your company values?  What’s important about that?

Just writing words on a wall doesn’t make a great culture.  There is no magic formula here.

The ability to articulate what’s important to you and your organization and why is the first step in creating a culture where you will get the best of your people for who they really are. 

Tell me about your culture.  What’s something you want to change or do differently?

Story is Data

Story is Data

Data. Data! Our culture is so obsessed with data!

More and more of our clients are asking us to provide data about our projects working on leadership development and cultural clarity projects.

  • “How is this work actually changing things for the better?”
  • “How do we know if we are getting our money’s worth?”
  • “What is really working?”

All important questions, but tough because new thinking is required to arrive at the answers. What data do we measure? What data is there?

And a lot of us in the leadership and culture space get hung up on an understandable aversion to using cold hard data to measure cultural and personal “work.”

I am, however, eager to experiment and learn how to bridge feelings and rational thought and demonstrate the relationship to each other.

Sasha Dichter, in his recent blog, “Uncorrelated Impact Understanding,” gave me a hint. I think the quest might be to figure out how seemingly tangential things begin to evolve, grow, or change when the culture and leadership tools start getting practiced and embedded — “part of the water supply” as one of our clients likes to say.

Maybe it’s not just about the evaluation data, but in identifying the brightspots — the stories of places where someone uses the new tools to successfully lead through a situation of change. Details about what worked, what didn’t, and what people are eager to try again. (Thanks, Heath brothers.)

To use one of my favorite songs from Rent to tell the story:

“How do you measure a year?”
“In daylights? In sunsets? In Midnights? In cups of coffee?”
Or “in five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes?

Is it traditional data? Benchmarks, engagement surveys, rankings?

Or, is it the stories of the ways culture and leadership tools and practices create stronger, more impactful teams?

Maybe stories of the way a cultural clarity or leadership tool attracted a great new team member, empowered a cross-team solution, or motivated people to reach further than they thought they could are the data.

Story is the data.

One Giant Puzzle

One Giant Puzzle

People are like puzzles, made up of lots of little pieces, each piece representing a story.  The frame of the puzzle is made up of all the little stories, the easy ones.  Just like a puzzle, the inside is harder.  The inside is made up of the heavier, more impactful stories.  When those pieces are put together they give us full a picture.

If I described the frame of my puzzle, I would tell you that I grew up in a small town in western Kansas.  My high school class had 42 people in it.  I’ve worn glasses since I was 6.  I went to a Catholic elementary school through 6th grade.  I was not athletic back in the day.  I was a lifeguard who loved spinning the whistle and who only halfway paid attention.   I went out for volleyball and track because all my friends did.  I remember running the half mile in track and literally coming in last place every time.  I didn’t even care because my friend Janell and I giggled for two laps.  I remember the time I dropped my lunch tray in elementary school twice in one lunch period and was so upset I went to the library and sat by myself.  I remember throwing up in the entry way of Wal-Mart and having an employee literally box me in with carts so no one would step in it.  I remember dancing on the bar at the Sandbar in college.  Those are the easy stories that make up the outer edges of the puzzle of me.

If you asked me to tell you about the inside of my puzzle, I would tell you the story about my grandma passing away a couple of years ago.  She was one of the kindest, sweetest women I have ever known.  She never said a bad word about anyone.  When we were little, she would let us have a tiny bit of coffee with cream and as much sugar as we wanted.  She made cornflake cookies.  She let me go get her mail through the little path in her back yard. 

As I got older, went to college, and moved to St. Louis I didn’t see or talk to my grandma as much as I should have, making her death that much harder.  When we traveled the nine hours to western Kansas for her funeral, we saw family that I had literally not seen or talked to in twenty years.  When I say “family,” I mean aunts, uncles, and cousins, not distant relatives.  I was flooded with memories from my childhood.  My family was never included in “their” family dinners or “their” family vacations or “their” family gift exchanges. 

As I stood in the funeral home and at the funeral, I could feel the tension.  They didn’t say a word to me or my family.  I felt like they were waiting for me to come to them.  I didn’t.  I didn’t think it was up to me to engage with them.  They didn’t want anything to do with me as a child, why would they want anything to do with me as a grown-up? 

On the way home, I had nine hours to think about my grandma and family and I realized that perhaps feeling rejected by that side of the family for my entire life was at the core of why I never really felt good enough. 

That is one of my stories, one part of my puzzle. 

The thing about individual and personal stories is, we don’t get to tell someone that their story is wrong.

It’s their story.  Not yours. 
Their perspective.  Not yours.
Their experience.  Not yours.

It’s like moving an end piece into the center of the puzzle because you think it goes there.   Or worse, taking a piece of your puzzle and forcing it into theirs.  Let’s stop trying to change someone’s story, or worse, completely taking it away because it’s different than ours. 

Stories have always been and will continue to be a way that we connect with each other as human beings.  I have no doubt that you have a story around family that is probably totally different from mine and I bet we could also find things we have in common.  That’s the beauty of the humanity puzzle.

What happens when you come up against a story that is so completely different from yours and so far outside of your experiences that you can’t wrap your head around it?  You want to believe that it’s not true. You can’t even accept it. 

I’m going to ask you to extend yourself here.

Our homes, communities, work places, schools and neighborhoods are filled with humans made up of hundreds of puzzle pieces.  Their puzzle.  Their stories.  There is room for all of them regardless of what the news tells us. 

Extend yourself.  Go talk to someone and listen to their story. 

If you’re interested in what it means to Extend yourself in leadership, download Finding Time To Lead and check out the EXTEND chapter.

Reflection Questions: 

  • How might my personal story impact me now?
  • What would it look like if everyone could tell their story?
  • How do I make room for people to share their story?

Shingles…And Not The House Kind

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Shingles…And Not The House Kind

As I sat waiting for my prescription to be filled at Walgreens, I really couldn’t believe it.  How did I get here?  Did I really let it get this far? 

Shingles.
That’s right, shingles.  From stress.

For those of you who know me, you might be thinking to yourself:

But Jami, you are always so happy.
But Jami, you’re always smiling.
But Jami, your kids are so beautiful.
But Jami, your kids are so happy.
But Jami, your work looks awesome. 
But Jami, you love your job.
But Jami, you’re always so positive.

All of these things are true.

However, I’m realizing that the only side of me I let anyone ever see is the happy, smiley, joyful, upbeat, positive side. 

A couple years ago, I had just finished up a two-day work event and arrived early to pick up my kids from school.  I was exhausted and quietly sitting on the couch waiting for them.  Another mom walked up to say hello and when I didn’t respond with enthusiasm, or “full-on Jami” as I describe it, her response was, “What’s wrong?”.  When I told her that I was just tired from work, she responded, “I don’t like this Jami” and even waved her hand in a circle in front of my face to show me exactly what she meant by that. 

In the moment, I was too tired to really care what she thought, but after reflecting on it:  I was mad.  This happened about three or four years ago, so it’s clearly stuck with me. I don’t need anyone’s permission to show this side of me and if you really were my friend, you wouldn’t care that I was sitting quietly on the couch.  

“If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war in yourself” is one of my favorites quotes, it has new meaning for me now. 

It turns out that when I avoid conflict to keep the peace – when I show up only as “full-on Jami” even when I’m not feeling it – I start a war in myself.  For me that war looks like…shingles.  It’s like the parts of myself that I don’t let people see are finding their way out into the world in the form of ugly, itchy, painful bumps.  Maybe the universe is telling me that it would be better to let the ugly, itchy, painful parts of myself be seen so that they don’t have to erupt on my hip.

Clearly, the Universe is calling me to explore the other sides of me...

  • What’s it like to speak up and not just default to what others think, say, or do to avoid conflict?
  • Can I change my deeply held story that engaging in hard conversations doesn’t make me unkind, needy or selfish?
  • Is it possible to continue to see the good in the world and not feel like I’m ignoring the obvious hurt and pain in our world today?
  • How can I choose to be in places and with people who like all of me, not just the happy, smiley, joyful Jami?

Getting shingles was a wakeup call for me.  My entire life I’ve been told that I’m fun and nice.  That has served me well and will continue to serve me well in many ways.  My lifelong work will be knowing those moments when it’s not serving me well and stepping into or leading conversations even when they’re hard.  If I don’t do this work, the Universe will just keep sending me signs and I’ve had enough of ugly, itchy, painful bumps!

If you’re interested in exploring some of the “stories” you’re carrying with you that may be holding you back (or giving you shingles!), download Finding Time To Lead and check out the EXPLORE chapter. 

Reflection Questions:

  • What is the side you let people see?
  • What are your other lesser known “sides?”

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The Tyranny of the Org Chart

The Tyranny of the Org Chart

Org charts are tailor-made to KILL new ideas. Think about it. Picture an org. chart. The org. chart is all about channels up and down. There aren’t even any lines between departments or business lines. It is a tyrannical master – in both perception and in practice.

Leadership in La La Land

Leadership in La La Land

Have you seen the movie La La Land? Did you like it? I did. I liked it for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that there is a scene in La La Land that could have come straight out of Finding Time to Lead. Yes, really.

Take a Breath and Count To Ten

Take a Breath and Count To Ten

“Sometimes you need a friend whispering advice in your ear and telling you to breathe at those most difficult moments in the work when you really need to hear it.”

Someone really nice said that to me yesterday. Great timing as I gear up to simultaneously launch my first book into the world, wrap up a crazy year, plan for an even crazier 2017, and plan for the holidays. So, I’m passing along the advice.

What's Your Story?

What's Your Story?

Our personal stories are shaped by many (many!)  factors – where we grew up, how many siblings we have, our ethnic or religious background and culture, our race and gender.  Things we may not even think of.  I happen to be 6’ tall.  Being a 6’ tall woman has shaped my experience in the world in significant ways.

A Shift in Perspective

A Shift in Perspective

Imagine taking a photograph with your phone.

You can see only what’s in the boundary of the camera’s lens. You can zoom in and get closer to the details, but you can’t get a broader view than what’s allowed by the frame.