Archive for March, 2013

Cancer not Lying: The Best Thing That Could Happen

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

imagesStacy Kramer’s TED Talk on the gift of surviving cancer is an extraordinary story about living and not dying. In a HuffPo editorial, she describes her brain tumor as an unexpected gift. She compares it to the uncertain, rocky road of disadvantaged students.

Kramer’s personal brand encompasses wisdom, compassion and gratitude. Her embrace of the events in her life, as well as her generous, eloquent perspective on anyone’s hard times: is as extraordinary as her survival. She doesn’t take a mawkish view about the silver lining in the black cloud, but she entertains the idea.

She makes it nearly impossible to not think of your own struggles. So I stared at my own after reading her piece.  Maybe you will now stare at yours.

Consider this. We all have our struggles, some more dramatic or obvious than others. Some define us. Some are easy to see and others are hidden from view, or at least until scrutinized. Steven Hawking and Lindsay Lohan come to mind, as their personal brands emerge in some part, from their personal struggles. Hawking with his nearly incapacitating physical challenges and LiLo with what looks like her psychobiological ones.

A rare person would take on the harness of hardship willingly, or at least you would think. The personal brand of the new Pope Francis does seem rooted in poverty, chastity and obedience. Mother Teresa’s personal brand seems to be rooted in service, compassion and personal visibility (at least according to the new commentary on her life and times). Other spiritual leaders come to mind as well. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put himself in harm’s way.

But rarely would someone with a lesser calling choose to struggle, right?

All this reflection compels me to ask: am I doing anything to invite struggle or injury upon myself? Are you doing anything to cause hardship in your life?

Unintentionally making a mistake isn’t a hardship you bring onto yourself. By nature, such a mistake is akin to an accident. Like a brain tumor or being born poor: most of us have something that has happened to deprive or delay our progress.

But there are other black clouds you may have attracted. These may be casting a shadow on your personal brand.

Lying would be the darkest cloud with the most lingering shadow. It would, no matter how I stare at it, not seem to morph into something that had value, like that valued silver lining. I am watching this cloud hovering above an otherwise agile young manager at work and I know it is good for nothing. It is nothing but a career-ending injury. It is like a time bomb.

There are other dark forces you might be drawing to hover about you. When you engage in gossip, make unreasonable complaints or arguing, and steal ideas from co-workers or resources from your company.

These are not hardships in service of the greater good or a spiritual quest.

Don’t visit unnecessary ailments on yourself. You have already been “blessed” with enough shortcomings, challenges, and accidents of birth or life that you must wrestle with or try to embrace. Read Stacy Kramer’s piece and see if you are inspired to take the gifts of misfortune, and divest yourself of those behaviors casting a shadow on you.

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The Most Dangerous Person in Business

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

shutterstock-a-good-boss1Do you know this person? He has one idea. It might have been a good idea awhile back. It might be a reasonable place to begin thinking about solving a problem. But, when you boil it down, one idea makes for lousy problem-solving. It makes for a lousy workplace. That one idea person might be your boss.

The Boss’ Way

This is how we open mail. This is how we send out invoices. This is how we interact with vendors. This is how we eat a sandwich. I actually watched the principal of my elementary school teach the entire student body how to eat a sandwich at a school assembly. “You take a bite from either end and then the yummy one in the middle.” Even at eight years old, I knew this guy was a control freak (I just didn’t know the term). Obviously, the scene still haunts me.

There’s nothing more disempowering than having to do things one way. It narrows the opportunity for growth, productivity, agile competitive actions and fun. The one way or the highway approach is definitely a joy-killer.

Are You the Boss of You?

You might have one idea about work, like the kind of work you’d like to do. Geographically, where you want to work. The size of the company. The type of company. The pay. The work alone at home or work in a skyscraper, Don Draper style.

Maybe you have piled up a lot of student loans, studying to do that one thing, learning the way you thought you would always want to do that thing. You invested a lot financially, psychologically and personally. Maybe you devoted yourself to Engineering. Anthropology. Business. Journalism. Fashion. Accounting.

In our society, we reward people for being single-minded. We call it laser-focus. We believe all go-getters needle nose their way through the pinhole that is uber success. They have their eyes on the prize. They run the race as the crow flies, without detours. They miss the backpacking through Europe and the street food in Asia. But, they got where they landed in record time. But, then they began to suspect there was more to life than the way they were living it.

That’s an awful penalty. And, living out the one idea way is a tough road, even if the destination made sense at one point in time. It narrows the opportunity for growth, productivity, agile competitive actions and fun. The one way or the highway approach to work is definitely a joy-killer. Yup, just like the one-idea boss.

The Remedy For the One Idea

Try the second best idea. Then the third. Fourth and so on. Make a list of what you might do. Write it all the way down to the least logical thing. That might be astronaut. Or fire eater. Or accountant. Or fashion blogger.

Don’t be afraid to be ridiculous. Make yourself laugh.

Then, post the list where you can see it and let your brain go to work. See if you can unstick yourself from where you are, and take the journey to where you might better belong. Repeat as necessary.

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Home Bound Workers Caught in a Sinkhole?

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

study-driving-to-work-packs-on-poundsHow dare Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, a new mother for goodness sake, force employees to come to work! How dare she want employees to see each other! What could be good about people who work in the same company making eye contact? Shaking hands? Exchanging a fist bump?

Why that would mean getting dressed! Improving your hygiene! Finding transportation!

How can you solve major business problems or provide support services for those who do… if first, you have to solve the puzzle of how to get from your home to the office? If you have a new iPhone, you don’t want to map it out – you might wind up in the ocean. How dare your employer risk your life, after all: does she know you don’t swim?

Are you kidding?

The greatest opportunities you will ever have are the ones you earn via networking. You know, meeting other people. You have learned this before when you looked for a job. Personal connections – people who like you and trust you – are statistically the best chance, maybe the only chance for you to get a good job.

But then, you get employed. Don’t you get to stop networking? Don’t you get to go back behind your laptop, alone in your room? That is, until you need another job. Then, you’ll break out your one clean shirt, brush your teeth and maybe your hair, and start meeting people again. Right?

Wrong!

People who earn the most money see other people during work hours for work issues. CEOs meet with their boards. Startup executives pitch funding sources. Movie stars go to a set.

If Brad Pitt makes $20 million on a bad year – actually showing up to work: do you think there must be something better than phoning (or skyping) it in?

How many parties are you attending behind your laptop? How many Thanksgiving dinners, weddings, adoptions, New Years’ celebrations, Nobel prize acceptances, Buddhist retreats, romantic first dates, dog walks, shoulder rubs, comfort for the grief stricken, kisses goodnight, physical therapy sessions, outdoor camping days, and all the other events large and small that make up life; how many are you physically absent from?

Have you stopped showing up for your life? You stopped showing up for a good third of it, if you are in the sinkhole of home bound work. You’re stuck in your home – like that poor man just sleeping in his bed in Florida last week – are in a sinkhole, if you don’t get out of your house or the local Starbucks – who by the way you’re putting out of business by refilling your cup every two hours for fifty cents.

Yes, I have days when I work from home. I have people who work for my companies work from home. Everyone takes vacations. People give birth. Everyone had the flu for at least a week. A few of us spend nearly every morning at home because we live off the 405, which doesn’t move most of the day but is stopped up like Mumbai during rush hour.

But if we don’t show up day after day, week after week, months at a time – the connection between all of us frays. Sorry virtual assistants, but that’s not really a career path. It’s a business. It’s a job. But, it’s worse than being an intern if you work for a company.

When you are home, you are home alone.

We need your presence to include you in a tribal counsel. We need to move together like a basketball team. We need to make the large and small accommodations for each other that create goodwill. That is what makes our companies sustainable and profitable.

Do we all need to be together everyday? Probably not. But we need to show up often enough so that seeing one another is not a special event. We don’t need to be on our best behavior, like it’s a parent-teacher conference. Treating each other like company gets in the way of transformation – which is the lifeblood of sustainable companies.

We need to be in the wolf pack, the pride of lions and the parliament of owls. We need each other to survive. Come take my hand and climb out of your sinkhole. Come to work.

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