The Power of Purpose

My father is 94 this year. He has Alzheimer’s and currently he has virtually no memory of 30 seconds ago. He is, however, seemingly content. As is often the case, this has been a long, progressive journey and we have found our way together. Each Alzheimer’s situation is different and for my father, I am glad to say he has never been delusional, not known who he was or what he did for work. He has always recognized me, and has always maintained a strong sense of ethics, values, emotions, and compassion for others.

I don’t know what it is like to be him, but slowly over the years, activities have been transferred to others. Whether that meant me paying his bills, or driving him, or getting his groceries, or reading to him, to now his care team in the memory unit assisting with all of his daily activities. I don’t know what it must feel like to be stripped of your activities one by one.

There is so much talk about finding value and purpose later in life, well actually, all through life if we are to have a life well lived. But articles are emerging more and more about the importance of being useful, finding purpose or adding value in our later decades of life. What happens when our abilities change in such a way that alters what we perceive as adding value?

My father was a physician at the university medical center. He was also a teaching physician. He loved what he did and gave everything he had to his work. He enjoyed practicing medicine as much as he enjoyed teaching it to new generations in healthcare. When it came time to retire due to an illness, he was fortunate to find a related activity on the State medical practice board. And when he needed to give that up to take care of my mother after an illness, he poured himself into her care. After she passed, he began a slow journey through memory loss.

I have wondered frequently over the years how fulfilled he has felt at different times, and what impact that has on him. Over the years our conversations have become grounded in the moment, generally very short due to his span of attention, and generally around a familiar set of topics.

So, you can imagine my surprise when one day this past year while watching a movie together, he turned to me and asked, “So, tell me about your job.” That has never been part of our repertoire of topics. I asked what he wanted to know and as I described what I did, whom I worked with, the mission of the company, and other facets, he would ask clarifying questions. This type of exchange had not happened for years. He was clear, he was articulate and he was interested. As I finished my explanation, he turned to me and offered to help, in any way. He asked if there was a way he could be involved to help improve the lives of the clients our organization provided services to. He wanted to contribute.

Through all the haze of memory loss, through all the limitations in activities over the years, through all the changes in his ability to walk, move or even speak, he had a driving need to have a purpose. That level of clarity did not return again after that day, but it was brilliant while it lasted.

What does remain with him is every time I visit and we watch a movie from his collection, he wants nothing more than to share his library with the other residents, to make them feel as good as he does when he watches them, and to share what he has. His life is so simple now and he doesn’t have many possessions left, but those he has that can be shared, he wants to do so. He wants to give to add value. He wants to give to have a sense of contribution and purpose. That has never faded despite all the other changes he has endured. That drive to make a difference is at his core and he will continue to offer himself to others until he can no longer, of this I am sure.

The Cha-Ching of Co-Generational Knowledge

You have read and heard me talk a great deal about the co-generational workforce and the current needs across all of the generations for what creates a desirable workplace. There isn’t a generation, or demographic, in the workforce that isn’t feeling some sort of longing to be heard more, learn more, or want to be given a reason to stay.

So, what are businesses doing about it?

There are two sides to every coin that make it intriguing and valuable. One side here says to engage employees in conversations so they better understand the needs of the business, the why of what the organization does and how they as an employee fits in; their why. The other side of that coin is for businesses to be able to provide a current-state, and honest, answer to that question. What is the answer in 2019? Are the business goals the same as when the doors opened? Perhaps, but given how technology has changed how we work and consumer needs have changed, the whys may have shifted. What are they now? And, how often do you as a business evaluate and communicate these shifts, thus aligning employee purpose?

Another coin, another question: One side says have employees engage in conversations where they better understand what each generation, or simply any person, brings to the organization so they can interact more effectively. The other side of the coin says the organization needs to build a culture that supports those conversations and subsequent supporting behaviors. The organization needs to not only create the space for the inclusivity conversation to happen but they need to model the behavior of appreciative curiosity and acceptance of diverse thought, and not just for a workshop. It needs to be on an ongoing basis.

Another coin, another question: One side says acknowledge the behavior differences in work styles. The other side says create spaces and opportunity to find the compliments in styles and knowledge. It’s not enough to just say, “yup, you’re different and I get that.” The real question is what are you going to do with that information to make the relationship stronger, the conversations more meaningful, and thus the solutions better?

Another coin, another question: We ask that employees come to appreciate the differences and similarities of skill, knowledge, age, style, and background bring. The other side says ask the organizational leaders to do the same. We can coach, talk, workshop and message these concepts to our employees, but have the leaders themselves engaged in the same learning? Have they assessed the business needs? Have they assessed the cultural needs? Have they imagined new ways of conducting the same work? You can build it so they come, but are you building it so they will stay? Your employees can participate in telling you how to do just that.

Adding all of these coins up gives us what? The invisible productivity of wisdom in co-generational teams can increase profits as much as 20%. High engagement companies improved operating income by 19.2% and those companies improved net income by 13.2%. Conversely, when people feel left out or disrespected 66% cut back their work efforts. 80% lose work time. 12% leave their jobs. And, people who feel left out are 5 times more likely to mishear information and take longer to make decisions. For the Boomers who are leaving their jobs, 57% have shared less than half the knowledge they hold, 21% have shared nothing, and only 18% feel they have shared everything.

What can you afford?

Packaging Your Experienced Self 101

I was in a recent conversation with a colleague who is in the process of looking for a new job. Their position has been eliminated. I actually have a number of friends engaged in this process and for the same reason. We were discussing how to best present their work in a resume, in the new, preferred, one page format. The challenge for an experienced worker, one with possibly over 30 years of experience, is boiling all that down to fit on to one 8.5 X 11 page. It’s …humbling, or perhaps slightly humiliating, to reduce all those years of wisdom and contribution to one page. It’s like when you move your office – even if you are still employed and simply moving spaces – to discover your 60-hour work-week fits into one cardboard moving box. It’s just one of those moments when you look down at the contents and weigh the number of hours contributed to the job, and you quietly say, “…huh.”

For those of us over 50, we have been told to remove any reference to dates of graduation, or numbers of years of experience associated with a skill, dare it to hint at our age. And while I don’t want to be discriminated against because of my age, I feel this process, which is meant to protect us, is also another form of ageism. I don’t mind the removal of graduation dates, but the years of experience does rub me the wrong way, I’ll admit. Resumes of the experienced worker sometimes need to be dumbed-down and every applicant needs to wordsmith their resume to match the advertisement in order to even make it through the initial screening queue. Forgive me, but I feel that action alone moves me one step closer to a “Stepford wife”; genericizing my experiences to even apply. My hope is that an organization has the insight and creativity to look beyond the cookie-cutter applicant to see the possibilities, talents, and gifts that could truly make their organization shine and bring in a diversity of thought and solutions.

Now, I say this, and I completely agree that in today’s work world, because of the pace of change, probably only the last ten years of experience are likely the most relevant. And, I am all about being concise and clear. But, I also wonder if there might be an additional format that could be useful.

I was in another conversation last week with a business consultant about to engage in a project with an organization that takes economically challenged youth and brings them through a professional development program to get them ready for the world of work. Because for many it’s their first professional resume, and the experiences of their youth may not map word-for-word to the job description, this organization has them create self-videos explaining the skills they have used in their lives and how those skills can be valuable to an organization.

What a brilliant idea! It immediately mapped in my own mind that this could be useful, probably to anyone, but with my work with the co-generational workplace, it would be extremely helpful, in my opinion, for the experienced worker to convey how their transferable skills actually can benefit the open position, and in a short and concise way, promote the possibilities and bust potential myths. Might this be a clever way to educate the possibilities of experience, creativity, and collaboration that comes so naturally with experience?

This would be the elevator pitch for the job, likely less than four minutes at best. A number of companies allow you to upload resumes and cover letters, the url to your LinkedIn account, and on a few occasions I have seen the opportunity to upload a video. I had always assumed it was for a digital portfolio of sorts, but what if it could actually be an ad for the applicant?

I’m still noodling on this concept, but I think there might be something here. What would your elevator pitch be to hire you?

Is It You, Or Is It Me? Is There Really A Generational Divide?

I recently gave a talk to a tech company who identified themselves as 73% millenial workers. My workshop presentation was on leveraging a co-generational workforce for a stronger business. During the talk, millenial audience members discussed some of the frustrating stereotypes about their generation – entitled, non-committal, it’s all about them, lazy, and wanting promotions every year. And the Gen Y-ers felt like they are often overlooked, that somehow they are getting lost in the shuffle. For some of them they have waited a long time to move up but the Baby Boomers are just hanging on forever it seems. And as for the Boomers, well, many are discovering they are just hitting their most powerful professional stride and they are not even close to being done, often times much to their own surprise.

We’ve heard this all before, right? I’m not denying that all of these feelings exist and the frustration is real. But, what if we looked at this through a different lens? Through a lens of hindsight and remembrance, and also one of discovery.

I would suggest that we were all ‘millenials’ at one point. We all entered the workforce at a younger age. I don’t know of anyone who wasn’t excited to share their ideas fresh from what they learned and wanted to contribute to the organization they belonged to. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t want a voice at the table or a shot at a position or to be recognized for what they offer. Even if we felt like an imposter on the inside, it was exciting to have someone in a more senior position listen to our ideas and if we were lucky, take the idea and help us advance it.

I also don’t know anyone that wasn’t trying to master their craft in their thirties or forties or felt proud when people started coming to them for the answers. I haven’t met anyone of that age that didn’t appreciate the comfort of knowledge and networks and having the confidence of the company behind them to stretch ideas and build on the organizational foundation. I haven’t met anyone who wasn’t proud to their core when they received a promotion.

And, it is rare that I find anyone in their fifties who aren’t discovering that purpose and adding value take more of a front seat over money and position. Or, that their creativity is at an all-time high. Or, that your 50’s don’t actually feel…old.

I prefer to look at these ‘generational divides’ more as normal stages of our professional, and personal, lives. Stages that virtually everyone goes through. And absolutely, each generation brings some unique qualities shaped by the times they grew up in. The millennials of today won’t always carry their current qualities and habits through the rest of their lives. They will become the new Gen-Y-ers and navigate all that comes with that age, and then eventually experience everything that Baby Boomers do now. Gen Z is already nipping at the millennials’ heels. We all evolve. It is part of a healthy developmental pattern that we move through these phases and master them. It's simply part of growing up. All the way up.

My Masters is in counseling & psych with a focus on adult development. Eric Erikson had seven stages of development that outline a normal progression of behaviors and perceptions throughout our lives. Most of what we see and feel in the workplace today are manifestations of similar stages, and the articles that segment the millennials from Gen-Y, from Boomers, from the new Z’s that are entering the workforce seem to enhance the focus on the differences or tie a generation to a set of behaviors set in stone.

I prefer to look at the workforce more holistically as individuals or teams that have an opportunity to bring their best selves forward. My responsibility as a leader is to provide an environment, the information, and the tools for them to do just that. It is my responsibility to create a culture where wisdom at any age is valued, and learning is continuous and fluid in all directions regardless of age. It is my responsibility to eliminate ageism whether it affects individuals in the 60’s, 50’s, 40’s, 30’s or even 20’s. It is my responsibility to normalize and celebrate, valuable contributions from all members of my team. It is my responsibility to teach this. And my hope is that everyone takes responsibility to live this and support positive working habits across all the generations. Let’s teach each other.

Hitting The Reset Button, Or.....Finding Neverland

When was the last time you took a moment to hit your own reset button? Generally we don’t. We move at such a rapid pace through our business, and personal, lives that sometimes it can feel like it takes everything just to keep up. When on earth would we have time, to well, take time?!

Recently I did just that. I took a leap of faith, made space in my life, and took a month off between mid-December and mid-January. A situation presented itself where I had an opportunity to stay in a family member’s apartment in Spain while they too traveled to far off places. Those opportunities don’t come along that often, and in the business world, well some things slow down over the holidays, so I took the opportunity to pause and reset my own life-button. It made all the difference in the world.

Per requests of friends I wrote a blog while I traveled and below is one entitled, “I Found Neverland” that speaks to my experience. Now, I realize not everyone can do this. It took decades for this intersection of opportunity and time to intersect. It also took the ability for me to see the opportunity and make the time. May you all find your version of Neverland when the time is right.

I Found Neverland ……

It is the third week of a four-week vacation. It is that place that after you have checked off the tourist boxes, slept in several times without an agenda the next day, eaten foods you can’t pronounce, marveled at how others live, seen life through new eyes, and your body has replenished itself at the cellular level. It is when you can no longer clearly remember work items and your mind actually goes blank when trying to conjure up the next task to tackle. There are no home chores to occupy your time because you aren’t there. No phone calls to return. The day unfolds without being planned. The sun rises and sets on shores that aren’t yours. There are no emails so urgent you need to reply to, no daily obligation that you can get to, or worry you need to solve; you left it behind. There is no need to ‘ramp back up’ because you still have plenty of time left to do so.

Neverland is magical because it is hard to find and rarely exists in our culture. Never in my life have I taken more than two consecutive weeks of vacation. I can count the ‘true’ vacations I have taken on one hand and I am nearing 60. I had only dreamt about doing what I just did; taking a month off. Never in a million years did I imagine I would actually do it. I don’t know where I found the courage to give myself this gift, this rare experience, but I am glad I did. It has gently changed me in so many little ways. Through the experiences over the last few weeks, ever so quietly, I became reacquainted with myself. Sometimes I think we lose small pieces of ourselves, or pieces we remember from an earlier time, in the rush of every day life. We have to in order to maintain the pace of our lives or support the people we intertwine with. It was simply so very nice to meet myself again, and who I am now.

The third week is Neverland because there is still one week to go and now I must begin to shift gears and get ready to return. I couldn’t go on forever like this, but I will accept every moment at hand and I am grateful for every single one of them.

Seeing The Possibilities

I was engaged in a conversation recently with a senior tech engineer talking about the culture at his start-up company. I’ll call him “George”. George was telling me about a time when the company was desperate to bring in more engineering talent. The HR department followed the usual protocols and sent out their advertisements and postings. While they received a number of applicants, no one was fitting the bill. George mentioned that he knew of someone who had recently been let go of his job that he thought would be perfect. After HR reviewed his profile they thought he was over-qualified and not in fitting with the start-up culture of the organization. He was in his mid-fifties. George disagreed. He spoke with HR a few times, but to no avail to bring his friend on board.

George decided to invite the engineer to coffee. He asked the hard, elephant-in-the-room questions like you used to supervise large teams and this is an individual contributor role, how will you feel about that? The engineer replied he would be quite content with that. Managing large teams had taken him away from the engineering that had been his passion.

George mentioned the pay wasn’t as much as he used to make to which the engineer replied he was at a stage in his life where he no longer had to buy houses or put kids through college. He was comfortable and his priority was to be passionate about his work.

George mentioned the engineer might have to work weekends or long hours during product releases. The engineer replied he would be there when he was needed. Again, this was work he loved and would give them his all.

George brought all of this back to HR. They still hadn’t found the talent they had originally been seeking. Despite their earlier reluctance, they hired the engineer. That was five years ago and while most of the engineering team has left, the engineer has been the solid rock in a sea of change.

Conversely, I recently wanted to bring on a young woman straight out of college to help me in a recent interim CEO role I took on. It was met with great skepticism by some of senior leaders and one had the audacity to put in writing that to hire her would be one of the greatest insults to the existing staff at the organization. I brought her on anyway. She is twenty-three and majored in English. We were a social service non-profit organization.

In her tenure over the last four months, she organized and led a four-year strategic plan process and execution that none of the other leaders had led before. She assessed and made recommendations to organize company-wide information management. She dove into grant reporting and analysis with key leaders and mined for data no one was sure where to find. She is now leading the organization’s major annual reporting initiative for the state, collaborating with leaders across the company. In her spare time she jumps in wherever needed, picks up projects that sometimes she has no background on, figures them out, asks questions, offers solutions, and has become one of the organization’s greatest human assets. She has pride in her work, but no pride in ownership. She learns and teaches equally.

Talent lives within all of us regardless of age. It is belief and opportunity that lead to success. The greatest moments in my own career were during times when someone else believed in my abilities, sometimes more than I did. Or they saw something there. They had faith and gave me space and the support to succeed.

In a time when talent seems scares we need to think differently about where to find it. We need to believe in each other and see the possibilities.

Letting Go

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” It’s a quote from Joseph Campbell that I heard recently.  It struck me as wise, and also difficult to do.

Most of our lives we plan, we strive for goals, we visualize how we want things to be, and then create our worlds to support those concepts and dreams.

Have you ever had the experience along the way of feeling blocked or stuck?  It’s as if you can imagine the desired state, but you find glass walls that prevent you from actually moving ahead.  You can see where you want to go, but no matter which way you turn you can’t seem to get … there

I have watched many people relentlessly run into those walls over and over, trying to break them down, or refuse to believe they can’t get to their desired destination and end up feeling frustrated and angry at the world, and those around them.

What if those glass walls were not intended to block us, but rather guide us?  Perhaps they act as guardrails in our lives, ushering us toward another destination, along another path.  Perhaps it is our job to have faith and provide space for the path to unfold.  And, continuing with the concept of glass walls, perhaps we are supposed to be able to see everything around us to appreciate what is there, as well as what we imagined, as we journey through.

There is a part of me that does truly believe this.  I have lived it too many times not to recognize, and attest to, the shifting paths and glass walls.  The older I get there is a sort of peace and understanding to this philosophy, but there is also a part of the experience that seems to get harder, or for me it has.  There is a part of me that says, “Enough already, where is the cruise-control?”

Then again, I don’t know as if I am really wired that way anymore, nor does it feel like life offers that option as frequently.  Perhaps it never did.  We move faster, we connect constantly, we work longer hours, we live longer lives, and life happens.  Life happens. 

And along the way each of us will experience a shift in paths, a glass wall where we can still see through to what we thought would happen, and we may linger and long for it in the distance, but a time will come when we will need to move on, in another direction, to a different destination.  “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Age Without Borders: HOW WILL CAREGIVING IMPACT YOU IN 2018?

How often we are required to provide care for our loved ones!   Sometimes it’s our children, our spouses, a friend, an aging parent - even ourselves. 

Just as often, this leaves us feeling overwhelmed, stressed, even depressed. We find ourselves needing support, self-care and even some good old-fashioned inspiration. 

I’m delighted to be a participating speaker in the FREE Global Caregiving Virtual Summit from January 20-26.

I'd love for you to come receive support and resources from me and over 60 speakers from 17 countries - all about caregiving! 

We’re going to share caregiving tools and techniques, insights, and personal stories over seven days of deeply intimate conversations. 

It’s really like a free online conference or Netflix series that brings you the knowledge and help for the most important job of your life.   

Click right here to get your FREE Pass to the Summit: http://awbcaregiving.com

Plus, there’s even a FREE Care Package that offers additional tools and gifts, like Nobel Prize-winning poetry, downloadable music and meditations, even recipes, and spot-on caregiving tutorials and guides.

I hope you'll join me in my mission to help you provide excellent care to the ones you love.

Generous Listening

Generous listening is a term I learned recently.  Generous listening is powered by curiosity and it involves a vulnerability and willingness to be surprised and to let go of assumptions and take in the ambiguity.  It comes from the book, “Becoming Wise”, written by Krista Tippett.

The phrase resonated with me, perhaps because I tend to be a curious person.   The emotional engineering of human beings has always fascinated me.  What makes us tick, what motivates us, why do we create, or how do we learn?

I was engaged in a conversation with a good friend recently and we drifted on to the topic of behavior change.  In order to affect behavior change, there needs to be a shift in existing perceptions.  Depending on what side of the conversation you may be sitting on, that shift may, or may not, seem obvious.

When I was being trained to be an executive coach, one of the instructors provided a brilliant pearl of wisdom.  He said, “ When you’re having difficulty getting the other person to see what you are trying to explain, the question to ask yourself as a coach is – ‘why would they know any different?’”  It’s a fabulous question as each of us comes with our own world of reality and experiences, and it’s hard to separate yourself from those frameworks.  They are the foundation for our beliefs and actions.

This is where generous listening can help.  If I take the time to ask questions to better understand where the other person is coming from, then I gain insight into their world and that rationale.  I will learn something.  Guaranteed,

So, now that I have learned something, what happens if I don’t agree with it?  The goal was to shift a perception.  This is another wonderful quote from the book, “I can disagree with your opinion it turns out, but not your experience.  And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in a relationship, acknowledging the complexity in each others position.”

Again, this is a perfect opening for generous listening.  Ask questions.  Be curious.  Follow rabbit holes.  Engage in an improv-like conversation where the other person makes a statement and part of your response begins with, “Yes, and….”  The difference between saying, “yes, and” and “yes, but” is significant.  “Yes, and” keeps the conversation going, the questions flowing, and insight and answers emerge.

Once we start to engage honestly in a relationship with the other person, we can then understand them.  We’ve opened up the doors of communication.  We may not always agree, but we can understand.  Once we understand, we can find common ground.  Once we have common ground, we can work from that to create solutions together, and once we create solutions together, we begin to change.  It can all start with generous listening powered by curiosity.

Grit & Grace

Starting over.  It can be daunting for anyone.  Whether you are one of the experienced workers who just celebrated 25 years at your company and you are getting ready to move on, or if you are relatively new in the workforce and have been searching for the right fit. More and more companies hire, fire, acquire and retire themselves at an increasingly fast pace these days. 

Competing in today’s economy is not for sissies, and the result of organizational changes on our human talent is significant.  How well we handle it says a lot about us, either for the individual or the business.  When done well, it has been my experience that it takes both grit and grace on everyone’s part.

If you were part of the layoffs, handle the changes with grace and leverage your grit to roll up your sleeves and dive into researching what is next.  It will take grit to be brave and reach out to friends and colleagues, sometimes over and over, and it will take grace to endure the patience that will be required.  You will get there and sometimes the answer lies in the most unexpected places.

If you chose to leave, you still need to find a place to land and then become part of the company and culture.  It can feel a bit like going back to junior high sometimes.  Confusing and navigating existing group cultures.  It will take grace in timing to emerge into the new groups, or to take leadership.  It will take grit and determination to find your spot with collaborative grace.  You may want to show your talents within those first 100 days, but having the reserve to make it not all about you will let everyone win.

Starting over can occur at any age.  And should the situation result in you going out into the work world by yourself, by choice or need, branching out as an entrepreneur can be scary.  The entrepreneurial track is occurring more and more.  You see it in shiny new products and services, but also in the gig economy, small businesses, and your neighbors on your street hanging out a shingle.

If entrepreneurship is your path and answer to change, it will be yours to own.  You will start from scratch on everything.  You will work harder than you ever have before.  Hopefully, you will have more fun than you have ever had.  You will make all the decisions, all the relationships, all the product adjustments, and all the financial choices and risks.   You will be brilliant and you will fail.  You will step out on a variety of stages and share your voice, sell your product, shake in your boots, and smile with pride.  It will take everything you have and it will take longer than you ever expected.  It will take true grit and grace to get through the days, and sometimes years, but if you are true to your purpose, if you believe in what you are doing, and you can figure out what is ‘enough’ throughout the journey, it can be the greatest thing you will ever do.

Grit and grace are a brilliant combination.  Each allows us to show the best of ourselves, either from digging deep and often surprising even ourselves at what we have to offer the world or how long we can stand for what we truly believe in, or it is the gentleness of grace and allowing all the good things due us in, as well as letting go of pride and control to the things that were only meant to stay a while.

May your 2018 be filled with both in good measure and may it be a year where you surprise yourself.

Giraffes, Where You Least Expect Them

When I was a little girl of about 4 years of age, my parents told me one night to make sure I shut my bedroom window so the draft didn’t come in.  What I heard was ‘make sure you shut your window so the giraffe doesn’t come in.’ I climbed into my bed [which faced the window] and pull up my covers so that just my eyes could be seen, and I would stare at that window, petrified, waiting to see an enormous giraffe head appear.  Eventually, I would fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion.  I didn’t tell anyone that I was afraid, and I didn’t ask any questions to verify my imagination.  I just accepted what I thought was true and created a nocturnal nightmare for myself.  I think I it went on for almost a year.

In today’s workplace, there are more and more news stories that would cause anyone to be concerned, be it the latest slew of sexual harassment allegations, the rapidly changing job market with mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing, the tight labor market, or the reality of ageism in the workplace.

Fear is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is nature’s way of protecting us.  It raises its [giraffe] head and triggers a response in our bodies emotionally and physically to find safety.  In my personal experience that inner voice, or that gut feeling, has been about 99.9% accurate.  There may not be a need to flee, but it triggered my cautionary measures to kick into place.

In order to function effectively in the workplace when we feel fear, we need to find balance and focus.  Four steps to navigate fear are:

1.      Become aware of what you are afraid of and realize it is separate from you.  You are not the fear itself, rather the person experiencing it.  Will whatever is happening actually affect you?

2.     Identify it.  What specifically are you afraid of, and is it fear?  Or is it resentment?  Is it lack of confidence?  While any of these emotions have their own treasure chest of complexity, they can often intersect or be confused with other emotions.  Narrowing what you are afraid of is important

3.     Have some curiosity.  Explore what it is that is really scary to you and clarify what is its cause and notice how you react.  Once you start to get closer to it, is the cause of the fear what you thought it would be?

4.     Focus on the now.  Fear is often based on the future; what will happen if the giraffe’s head appears?  We create all sorts of scenarios in the what-if world.  What is happening to you right now?  Focus on that

Fear will happen to all of us, in and out of the workplace.  The key is to be smart in how we manage it.  Some of it is real and there is a need to be diligent, pay attention, get all the facts so we know what we are dealing with, and to trust our instincts.  Others can be perceived and manifest in imaginary and distracting ways, like my giraffe.  He never did appear.  And had he, I suspect the monster that I had imagined might have looked at me with large doe-like eyes with 6-inch eyelashes, nodded his very large head and quietly walked away; a different manifestation than what I had imagined without exploration.

The Rubik’s Cube of Talent

The Rubik’s cube.  A three-dimensional puzzle created by a Hungarian sculptor and architect.  It is a multi-colored, multi-sided enigma for many, and once you start turning and twisting the cube, the colors intermingle, align and then change over and over.

Talent is a bit the same way.   Most of us have multiple talents.  Think of your six greatest talents.  Include the ones you have the skill for, as well as the ones you have a passion for and envision them each as one side of a Rubik’s cube.  Then imagine them turning and changing and being re-aligned depending upon the direction the cube, or your professional life, is turned.

There is a tendency, I think, to view our talents as single-sided.  I think this is true not only for how we see our own talent, but also from those we work with, or potential employers.  We become good at something, develop a talent for it, hopefully, pair it with passion, and then develop a reputation for that talent.  That’s a good thing until it’s not.

Sometimes we become so focused on what we have done that we forget how to look at what we can do.  And for a variety of reasons we can find ourselves in situations where what we have done doesn’t fit anymore; either we need to continue to grow and learn beyond what we have mastered; we can no longer physically do what we have done but have more to contribute; we have been downsized or re-org-ed and there are no jobs available in the role we once had, or multiple other scenarios can occur.

One of the options is to relook at our own talent Rubik’s cube.  If you take another approach with the cube, with an attempt at keeping the answer simple, so only look at three elements instead of six, what if you look at one side as talent, another passion, and the third the emotional or psychological satisfying components that drove your talent in the first place?

I was recently part of a conversation where we were talking about nurses who were getting ready to retire.  They had a good career, but the physical demands of the job were getting harder and they wanted a change.  Yet, they had only known themselves as nurses, and the option of going part-time wasn’t available en masse, and they couldn’t think of what else they could do.  It made me think of my father who had been a physician.  He loved being a doctor, and since he was at a teaching hospital he also had the opportunity to teach med students.  It might have been a toss-up which part of his job he loved more.

When he had to retire due to health issues, he had more to give but didn’t know where to turn.  He turned inward to recognize that it was his desire to care for others, his compassion, and his ability to teach in a variety of non-traditional formats that were still at his core.

He found work on a medical committee where he could continue to learn, talk about things that mattered to him and others, teach in a different manner, and be compensated for his time.  He turned his Rubik’s cube around a few times until he found the combination of skills, talent, and passion that worked.

For employers, I encourage looking at a prospective applicant’s talent Rubik’s cube, as well.  Appreciate not only what they have done, but also the drivers that motivate them and compel them to master their talent.  Then, look at your own multi-sided Rubik’s cube of needs and think beyond the single-sided solution.

Co-…..What?? Co-Gen.

Co-generation is a phrase being heard more and more.  In the context of today’s workplace, it could replace the term multi-generational.  ‘Co-gen’ emphasizes the co-existence of age in the workplace where ‘multi-gen’ lingers on identifying one generation vs. another.

Why is this important?  When we talk about what one generation wants vs. another generation in the workplace, what we discover is that all people, regardless of age, essentially are looking for the same key elements, but perhaps for different reasons.  We hear about millennials wanting more flexibility in the work schedule.  This is true for Boomers who may be looking at new opportunities or a phased retirement.  It also applies to Gen X who is the new sandwich generation caring for both kids, parents and balancing an advancing career.  Most employees are looking for a way to contribute, to do meaningful work, to add value, have a voice at the table, have the tools and information they need to do their job, be given opportunities to learn and grow, and have strong, accountable leadership.  These are ageless desires.

As our workplaces continue to change, as well as the cadence of revolving talent, it will take everyone’s knowledge, insight and curiosity to solve the challenges and evolve the knowledge base.  I recently read, “the most powerful discoveries and developments often come as the result of lengthy, incremental collaborations between different groups of people,” stated by author and innovation expert, Jeff DeGraff.  This is not a revolutionary idea, but it is one that sometimes gets lost for the sake of efficiency.  We may not always have the luxury of time for the lengthy exploration, but we do have time to invite representation from across the company to apply their wisdom and experience, regardless of age, to the solution.

It’s not a new book, but a good one, that I recommend frequently to businesses, “Ideas Are Free: How the Idea Revolution Is Liberating People and Transforming Organizations”, by Robinson & Schroeder.  It outlines effective ways to solicit, implement, and credit employees for participating in the solutions for their business.  Invite your co-gen teams to the table, have them roll up their sleeves and solve challenges for your businesses in new and effective ways.  The results will be rewarding on many levels.

To Be

I usually write of business-related items, but tonight I write about the business of life and loss.  I have so many friends that have experienced the loss of a parent recently, and it is something that we will all go through.  For them, a brief thought and hope:

 

To Be

A moment

In the moment

Focus on nothing other than what is in front of you

Talk in present tenses

Talk of time gone past

Touch the other person

Look into their eyes

Remember what it felt like

Remember what they did

Remember what it felt like when you were their kid

Remember all the changes

Remember roles that changed

Remember how they held you

And when it was your time, you did the same

Be there

Be now

Be then

Be how

They transition

And you grow

Be the seed that they had sowed

Be their vision

Live their dream

But be you

And them

Release

Be

 

 

 

Women Making It Happen

I recently heard a story about a woman who was contemplating retiring from her professional life.  She asked the young woman she was with if she realized that this was the first time in American history where women, en masse, would start to retire from a broad spectrum of professional careers.  We are at an unprecedented time, she stated.  Then she added, "but I don't think I am done yet."

Not all 65-year-old women are ready to retire.  It seems many are just warming up.  I know of several women over the age of 65 that continue to engage, lead, create, and participate.  Research has shown women over 50 are at their most creative.  They have spent a majority of their lives heavily involved in raising their children, balancing careers and community, and at a time when men, who have spent their entire careers working and now want to slow down, women feel a sense of freedom, release, and energy. 

In another conversation I had this week with a bright woman in her early 30’s, she was stating the need for continued focus on young womens' abilities and opportunities to define their own work worlds.  We discussed how wonderful it would be to match experienced business women who are now entrepreneurs with those just starting out.

Regardless of age, and for a variety of reasons, women are creating ways to reinvent themselves.  The New York Times recently posted an article by Kerry Hannon about the current state of women entrepreneurs.  It’s an excellent read and I highly suggest it: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/business/women-entrepreneur-career.html?smid=li-share

Grazie Mille

Appreciation - ap·pre·ci·a·tion|  əˌprēSHēˈāSH(ə)n/   |  noun

The dictionary describes appreciation as 1) the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something, or 2) a full understanding of a situation.  This past week I experienced both of these in one setting.   

I had the true pleasure of participating in a Champlain College, David Cooperrider Center of Appreciative Inquiry Steering Committee to help plan a global summit in 2018 for Positive Education.  It was an honor to be part of this event.  Never before have I witnessed, nor participated in, a session where 80+ professionals worked together so collaboratively, in relatively few hours, to produce such brilliant, cohesive, results from seven different groups to outline and design a four-day global event.

The room was filled with people from eighteen countries and all ages.  While many may have heard of other participants in the room or their organization, most had never met.  What transpired over a day and a half was the skilled guidance and execution of the Appreciative Inquiry principles, blended with positive psychology, to guide relative strangers in designing a global summit.  The brainstorming session was inclusive of all participants and then specific groups designed the solutions for each of the seven categories.  Learning was shared along the way and each group was encouraged to provide insight and ideas to other groups.  And while it felt a bit messy at the end of day one, by mid-morning on day two, the solutions that were brought forth blew everyone away.  They were creative, targeted, and the energy in the room was electric.

Part of the success of this was having leaders skilled enough to provide an idea, some guidelines without being restrictive, providing tools and resources, and then stepping back to let others step forward.  We were encouraged collectively and we were also left alone as a group to show what we could do.  We welcomed ideas, we were flexible, and we found the intersections and dependencies not only within our group but also with all the groups.  We shared, we asked, we tried ideas, and let some go.  It was the epitome of the power of human thought and collaboration leading to simple, elegant and actionable results.

As you start your week, I encourage you to identify a challenge or task that needs to be solved.  Identify a group of people that come from different disciplines, ages, and life experiences and ask them to solve your task.  Give them enough information and support to be successful, be there to answer their questions and encourage them, and see what transpires.  I suspect you will be amazed.

Lessons Learned

When I was growing up, I would watch my father collect sayings, phrases, notes of wisdom and poignant cartoons.  He had a massive old library desk in his office with a large sheet of glass on top and he would cut out quotes or sayings and place them under the glass, in a sort of collage.  Honestly, I hadn’t paid too much attention to them while it was happening, but one day I was home visiting my parents and had to take a business conference call so I settled in at ‘the desk’.  The call was addressing issues that had come up from a recent organizational change and the subsequent confusion, disorganization and low morale that had manifested because of that action.

As I listened to the call, I happened to glance down and one of my father’s clippings caught my eye.  It read, “ We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams we would be reorganized.  I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” 

As I read the quote I thought it couldn’t have been stated any better as to what my organization was dealing with, but I didn’t see who said the quote.  I picked up the edge of the glass and slid the paper out.  I turned it over and there was the author……Petronius Arbiter, dated 210 B.C.  I stared at the name for a second and marveled at how little some things change over time.

 

Think Differently

Keeping engaged at work can be difficult.  Given the myriad of distractions we have on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis, such as a constant stream of email communication, ‘death-by-meeting’ as I just heard it described the other day, or the capacity any one of us has balancing home and work – focus can be nearly impossible.

Today I am thinking about the long-term engagement of employees.  That magical intersection where talent continues to meet passion that then intersects with opportunity.  How many of us have had the pleasure of working with managers that had the ability to identify what we as the employee want and need, with the opportunities the business has in order to grow?  The challenge can sometimes be magnified when we look at the experienced worker; those over the age of 50.  Part of the reason is by the time someone in the workforce has reached 50 years of age they have mastered one or two skills, to say the least.  There can be a complacency that occurs with both the employee and management to assume that they have arrived in a place of comfort and familiarity, but that place is rarely engaging. nor good, for either the employee or management.

It’s time to think differently for a couple of reasons.  1) Jobs are changing.  This isn’t news, but more and more jobs are, and will, become automated.  2) We need more people to remain in the workforce to offset the labor shortage that has gripped leadership within all sectors.  3) We need to think differently and prepare ourselves, for how to do business differently in order to compete in the ever-changing marketplace.  This may require new job functions or training.  It may require re-training in unconventional ways, such as reverse mentoring – trading technical IQ for emotional and experiential EQ.

The Pew Research Center discovered several key learnings in a recent survey.  Results noted the future of work skills included many human behaviors, attributes, and competencies. 

There is a lot of concern over growing automation and artificial intelligence [AI] and what that will do to traditional jobs, but research indicates there will need to be a focus on nurturing human skills that AI and machines haven’t been able to replicate, and that workers of the future will need to learn to deeply cultivate and exploit creativity, collaborative activity, abstract and systems thinking, complex communication and the ability to thrive in diverse environments.

“It will take the ability to effectively network, manage public relations, display intercultural sensitivity, marketing and …social and emotional intelligence”, says Simon Gottschalk from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  “Other respondents mentioned traits including leadership, design thinking, human meta-communication, deliberation, conflict resolution, and the capacity to motivate, mobilize and innovate.”

The needs of the future are exactly the capabilities of the experienced worker.  Having navigated the world of work pre-immediate virtual communication, these workers had to master the art of communication the old fashioned way, a way that seems to be coming around again.  And, due to the tenure of their careers, they have had the time to navigate a wide range of situations at work.  They have seen successes, failures, trends that come, trends that go, decades of change, growth, mergers, acquisitions, and the disappearance of businesses large and small.  They have spent years building their networks and intellectual resources within themselves as well as external. 

As with so many things in life, things come around again.  It turns out all that experience is in high demand.  Now, we need to have our businesses think differently about how to leverage all that knowledge in ways to capture it, teach other workers, and maintain our competitive edge.

Sir Ken Robinson, Schools & Creativity And How The Same Concepts Apply To The Workplace

If you haven’t watched Sir Kenneth Robinson’s TED Talk on How Schools Creativity, please do.  It’s 20 minutes of brilliance, poignant thought, and entertainment and you can find it here https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity. 

With my work with the multigenerational workplace and a specific nod to the experienced worker, I thought I might re-watch Sir Ken’s talk and replace the words and concepts for ‘children’ with the words ‘experienced worker’, and the word ‘school’ with the word ‘workplace’.  I also jotted down phrases he used when referencing youth in general.  What I noted was rather interesting.  Please note, these are not direct quotes and I interfused them with my lens towards business, but I wanted to share the point:

·      There is [great] evidence of human creativity, the variety, and range

·      We have no idea what will happen in the future [workplace/market/business climate]

·      We have a huge vested interest in education -> We have a huge vested interest in aging – we are all doing it

·      The extraordinary potential children have -> the extraordinary potential experienced workers have

·      All children have talents and we squander them -> experienced workers have talents and we squander them

·      If kids don’t know any better they will take a chance -> because experienced workers do know better, they will take a chance

·      Children get educated out of their creativity -> mature workers get managed out of their creativity

·      Every educational system has a hierarchy of topics, with math and science at the top -> every business has a hierarchy of topics with money at the top

·      We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence for children and the experienced worker.  He states we know three things about intelligence:

o   It’s diverse – visual, sound, abstract, concrete

o   It’s dynamic – he defines creativity as original ideas that add value and it happens through interaction of different disciplinary ways of thinking

o   It’s distinct – each of us has talents that are ours.  The brilliance is being able to see them in each other

He ends his TED talk talking about the ability to identify talent and the ability to create environments that foster those talents.  To do so doesn’t take that much, acknowledgement of the talent, space, opportunity, vision, and permission – from those that lead us and from ourselves to do it.  He comments that we need to rethink human capacity and how we manage it, and I agree.

Being There

Recently I was in a conversation with a good friend of mine who has a four-year old son.  I learned that apparently the terrible two’s have moved into the terrible three’s and that the fourth year can be one of defining and defiance.  She told me about a methodology for parenting that has been circulating called ‘No-Drama Discipline’.  The methodology espouses concepts such as connecting with the child first before the discipline takes place; making sure you understand what the right discipline, or learning, needs to be before simply assuming and applying.  I had also heard recently that it’s great to have two minutes of together time with your child right at the moment of waking up, just to connect and say hi.  To share a moment on the same wavelength before launching into what needs to get done at what time in order to get out everyone out of the house.  I would assume this could be a good practice regardless of age.

Another aspect of no-drama-discipline was to chase the why’s vs. just reacting to the behavior.  What actually caused it?  And that acknowledging feelings, nodding that you heard the other person, and when the time is right, reflecting back what you thought you heard, to help you understand the situation more accurately, teach more effectively, and de-escalates the drama.  Be there.  Don’t leave the situation.  Give the situation a moment to just be.

During my conversation with my friend, I suggested this methodology would work well for anyone, regardless of age.  Emotions are not a bad thing.  They are part of healthy communication and each of us has them on any given day.  When any of us is having a bad day all any of us usually wants is for someone to recognize that we’re struggling, or scared, or confused.  We don’t necessarily want someone to come in and ‘fix it’, but we don’t want to feel alone or abandoned either.  We could all benefit from someone [even ourselves] giving us permission to work through the situation, to figure out what the trigger was, to get insight and feedback on how to resolve it, to learn from it, and to know the people around us cared enough to support us through our tough time.

I also think all of our days would be a bit better if we all connected for two minutes at the start of each day.  When I was moving from higher education into the world of business, a very wise person told me to make sure that I walked the floors each morning and recognized everyone that was there.  It was a way of saying good morning, learning a bit about their lives, seeing their energy level, or if they were focused or distracted.  It was making rounds, if you will.  I learned more from those morning walks than any other part of the day.  Be there today; both with your families and with your colleagues.