Category Archives: career adventures

If I only had a Brain?

download“I could while away the hours conferring with the flowers consulting with the rain, I could dance and be merry life would be a dingle darry…if I only had a brain.” C’mon y’all know the song. Dorothy Gale’s best friend from OZ who guides, protects and consistently places himself in harms way to keep her safe..and constantly claims he knows nothing because his maker did not invest him with a brain. What we come to discover, rather quickly, is our friend the Scarecrow has common sense oozing through every pore of his being. No, he does not have a formal education or as the Wizard himself bestows a diploma; however when the going got tough it was the Scarecrow who had the answers, the plans and the gumption to get Dorothy’s rag tag band of compatriots through the tough times.

Ok Betsy get to the point! Well here goes, I was talking recently with the CEO of a mid-sized company that I work with (yes he has a brain and no he is not a scarecrow). We somehow got into a long discussion about how to break out of the rut so many similar businesses seem to be stuck in (unable to address challenges or move at all). I asked what he’s been doing to encourage staff to innovate and push the limits of current business practices.  First he looked at me like I had a third eye then he informed me that he’d hired a business consultant to come and observe, research and provide feedback into what he could do differently to move his business ahead.

Now for the record, this is a very intelligent and successful business man who has worked hard to grow his enterprise into what it is. That being said I wanted to scream “Please Use Your Brain!”. He is overlooking his single most valuable asset to experience incredible innovation and growth… his current employee brain trust. They may not have a formal education or be Bill Gates, Nikola Tesla or Thomas Edison; however they know your business, sometimes better than you do. Why wouldn’t you engage them?

As leaders we are constantly looking for the next big idea, what can we do differently that will catapult us ahead of the competition? So we read books, articles and blog posts on the next big idea, industry trends and we chase unicorns across rainbows only to end up in OZ with no idea how to get back. Do you know where most great new ideas come from? They come from the last place most managers look, your current employees… your employee brain trust.  Remember Dorothy’s famous line, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home“. She didn’t need to go looking any further than her own back yard to find all the answers.

If you are looking for industry trends, talk to the people who live it every day. If you want customer feedback, talk to the people who talk to your customers. If you want to tap into institutional knowledge and find out what is possible, impossible, too hard, too easy or will have a real impact ask the people who live it every day. Inside of your current organization are your disruptors, game changers,  and generally brilliant people. Talk to them, pose the questions to them…you may just be surprised at what you find.

yes change is scary and hard and often expensive however, never as expensive as staying still while everyone else passes you by. Not as scary as watching your hard built dreams unraveling before your eyes cause you didn’t anticipate future trends and certainly not as hard as telling your entire workforce that your business is closing and they are losing their jobs.

Really, what do you have to lose by engaging those who already work for you and have a vested interest in your success? I’ll tell you…nothing, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

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What do I want to be when I grow up?

This has been one of those weeks that leaves me thinking about a lot. Now thinking generally is not something I have trouble with, unfortunately I’m one of those people who has a very difficult time turning off my brain…even when I want to.

This week I hosted a luncheon of  women leaders who’ve I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with. I wanted to give us an opportunity to hear an incredible speaker, enjoy a healthy lunch and forge a deeper understanding of one another. Yes it was quite the women’s power hour and I LOVED it! Hearing their stories of adversity, challenges, struggles, success and set-backs inspired me; however, there was one question that I’m still pondering? What is my purpose and am I happy where I am right now?

I spent a good part of the evening and the next day with those questions still in my head. What IS my purpose and AM I happy where I am right now? My answer at the time was, “Yes I’m happy with where I am right now however, I’m not done yet.” As for my purpose, well that’s a harder one. I have always been an incredibly mission driven person, I want to make the world better. How I have lived that out through the years has morphed; whether its working in education, non-profit organizations of all sizes, employment services or in the media; if I don’t feel like I’m making a difference I am not happy.

Today I attended a panel discussion composed of female leaders from across different industries. They shared their trials, tribulations and successes, what got them there, what lessons they’ve learned and the pitfalls they wished they had avoided. Again the topic came up…live your purpose. I was sitting with a friend of mine who is a source of inspiration, she lives her purpose every day. She knows exactly what impact she wants to make and how she’s going to make it, she has laser focus in her career choices.

Now I am the first to admit that my career path has not be planned. In each of my career moves, I was scared to death that I might not be able to do the job, which is ultimately what inspired me to make the jump, I LOVE a challenge.

The BIG question is, what do I want to do now? Is it time to have a more purposeful direction? Is it time for me to pick a career field and stick to it? Do I finally need to decide what I want to do when I grow up? Answer: NO! Not just no but heck NO!

I’ve had a wonderful roller coaster ride of a career path. In each of my fields I learned new skills, honed my talents and grew exponentially. I grew in ways needed to take my next leap. Not only that, but as I have been promoted, I look to hire people with similar paths. Individuals who have a varied background that bring new perspectives to what we do, challenge the norms and me. I love where I am and what I’ve become both personally and professionally, which wouldn’t have happened without my roller coaster career path. No I’m not done, I have LOTS left to do and I’m not the type of person to confine myself to one box, one purpose or one direction, where’s the fun in that?

My mother and father both worked for the same employer for 35+ years. I’ve seen their ups and downs and I’ll admit there were times that I actually thought, “that will not be me.” Don’t get me wrong they loved what they did, my parents taught me professional & familial responsibility, extremely high work ethic and integrity. All of which are incredibly important but, you don’t need to stay in the same job to exemplify those traits.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t have to decide what I want to do when I grow up. Only time, opportunity, bravery and passion will tell. One thing I know for sure, it’s going to be fun and I will make the world better in whatever way i’m able.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

Humility Required…not Desired!

humility

For a highly motivated and driven individual, not hitting a goal hard and leaving it dying in the dust is never an option. However, sometimes it is a very painful reality. Finding a way through the complex range of emotions can be difficult…the key is not to be defeated. Yes, this sounds like the opening few sentences of the next “How To” business book or motivational “You Can Do Anything” article. Well it’s not. I missed a goal for the very first time in my professional career and it totally SUCKS.

I have felt defeated, bruised, my confidence is shaken and I have a hard time looking people in the face when they ask me how work is going. Especially those who have been friends for years and often talk of our various professional successes as if they are badges of honor. No, we don’t ever compare our successes like others do their cars, kids or paychecks. Believe it or not we do revel in each other’s triumphs.

Over the past weeks, it became painfully clear that although we had a bang-up year (in the best sense), my team was not going to achieve what we set out to achieve. I have been uncertain how to accept my defeat. In my mountaintop moments I often looked to my mentors, heroes and idols; could that be me some day? I want to make that kind of impact. How can I follow in their footsteps? Well the truth of the matter…I am.

Before Nelson Mandela united a nation, he was in prison for over two decades. How many setbacks did Abraham Lincoln suffer before he achieved the level of success that captures our imagination over one hundred and fifty years later. Did Steve Jobs achieve total world domination after building his first Mac…NO! Our leaders, heroes and idols are so often defined by their successes, it is after all,  what they are remembered for. We strive to be like them, read books and articles about them listen to endless TED Talks and quote them whenever we can. We don’t sit around thinking, “gosh I sure hope that I have to suffer the failures, humiliation, and persecution that they did“. GET REAL!!! Who wants to go through that, isn’t there a fast track, a short cut, a pill or “Get Out of Jail Free Card“, that can alleviate all that nastiness? No, my friend, there is not.

Yes, thinking through this, I do have a slightly better perspective. No, I am not back on my mountaintop, I’m still frustrated and a bit disillusioned. What I can say is this, knowing that the incredible people that I have looked up to all these years are indeed human and have also suffered failures and defeat does give me hope. I choose to move forward, learn where I need to adjust, how can I approach differently, rethink my box (not that I ever really worked in one) and go at it again.

We are not defined by our circumstances or what happens to us, anything that happens to us. We are defined by how we respond to, and through those circumstances. I may never change the world in the way some of my heroes have, but I will change it, and I will change it for the better. I will change it because I know I can and I will get up each day, no matter how difficult it may be, and go at it again.

Humility is a key characteristic of successful people. They have been knocked down, walked in others shoes and chosen to lead through that experience. Without humility, we can never truly understand or appreciate what we have and how hard we had to work to get there.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

Your Greatest Weapon…Your Smile

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You never know the effect a smile can have on those around you.
I was reminded this week of a time, early on in my career, where I was asked to fill in for a colleague with our CEO. He had a terrible reputation within the administrative pool. In fact it was not unusual for a newer admin or a temp to leave his office crying. Unfortunately, it was a regular occurrence.
When I was asked to fill in for a whole week while someone was on vacation, I was terrified… but determined. No one could be that mean…right?
I showed up my first day and was quickly (very quickly) shown the ropes and left on my own. I sat in my chair and thought…what do I do now? I stood up, put on my best smile and went to his door. I knocked and was quickly reprimanded with a “What?” Entering the room still wearing my smile, I asked if there was anything he needed or if I could do anything for him. Slowly, he looked up from his computer. I think the unfamiliar voice threw him, (he may have actually forgotten his assistant was out for the week). Looking at me he thanked me and stated he would let me know if he needed anything. I wished him a good morning and went back to my desk. I made sure to repeat this every time he called me on the intercom (which was VERY often), and asked me into his office to take his dictated communication.
When it was time for me to leave for the day, I smiled and asked if there was anything he needed before I left, wished him a good evening, and let him know I’d see him in the morning.
Here’s where it gets good. The next morning I was in the office before him and as he walked by my desk he stopped to wish me a good morning, politely asking if I would get his coffee.  I fixed it, per his request, brought it in along with his paper and periodicals, pages marked with tabs where I thought there was something that related to the business or might be of interest to him.
I spent the week exceeding expectations with my work, but more importantly, with my behavior. Yes he was old school, I mean taking dictation…who does that?! However, he started including me in conversations, meetings and asking my opinion. He joked with me and taught me. Within one week, his demeanor had changed to the point that others noticed.
I spent the next several years working for this organization and I can say that each time there was a life event, he noted it. When my daughter was diagnosed with Cancer, he gave me his personal guarantee that my job was secure no matter what and that I should reach out to him if my family needed anything.
You can be assured that each time he needed someone to fill in, it was my line he called. If there was a project, new initiative or opportunity, I was included. He helped to shape my young career in ways others could not. This brilliant, stern, dry humored, generous man passed this week. I am sad that the world lost him, perhaps without really knowing or understanding him. I am so grateful for the time I was able to spend with him.
I remember those years working for and with him with a smile on my face. The same smile I greeted him with each day. Do I think that this will always happen when we put our best selves forward? No. Unfortunately the world is still full of people who have to make others feel less, for them to feel more. However, there are also those who have goodness inside of them and might just need someone help them bring it back out.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at  “Connectthedotblog”.

 

Go Brush You Teeth!

20170521_084340.jpgIt’s starts as a normal request, “please go brush your teeth.” Then a few minutes later, “Did you brush your teeth?” After a wee bit longer, “how many times do I have to ask, go brush your teeth.” Before too long it is more of a declaration of war than a simple request.

Finally they emerge from the bathroom and you take a deep satisfying breath. Then when you go to give them a kiss before they leave the house…the truth is revealed! WOW, they never brushed their teeth, they wet the brush, smeared toothpaste on it and everything…with the amount of time they spent making it look like they did the job, they could have actually done the job! What the heck!

This is not an uncommon occurrence with our children, we fight the important battles with them, and for each child it can be different; the rest we chalk up to acceptable losses. There is one arena however that this kind of behavior is way more detrimental…in the workplace.

Do you have an employee, co-worker or even supervisor who seems to be always busy but rarely seems to produce results? Are they constantly saying, “yes I’ll do that right away“, “I‘ll get right on that“, “as soon as I get back to the office I’ll take care of it“, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you wanted ME to do that“, and yet whenever you ask again, because it hasn’t been done, you get the same responses?

As an individual occurrence, this can happen. We are living and working in a world that moves so fast, things can and do fall off our radar. However if this is habitual it can be an indicator of root causes that need to be addressed.

Our children are…well children. They forget, they’d rather play, they don’t understand the consequences of their inaction. That is why we as parents much teach them and hold them accountable and give them boundaries to help them safely navigate their world. We don’t give up on getting them to brush their teeth, cause it’s just too hard. Trust me a 7 year old needing a root canal is much harder, and yes that did happen to my son. He was VERY good at finding ways to not brush his teeth, but he is much better now.

As a manager/supervisor/leader the lines aren’t always as clear. We have to show the way, teach the way, then get out of the way. After that, we have to take the time to inspect what we expect and hold them accountable. What does that mean exactly? That’s not always so black and white.

When I hold a meeting, it’s always a working meeting. If there is a meeting to schedule, a follow up email to be sent, a phone call to be made…I make it right then and there. When one of my team comes to me and asks me to make a call or send a note, I do with them in my office watching and listening. They see my actions, I show them how to do it, they see my results.  When I delegate a task to someone on my team, I set the expectation for when it should be done and that I will follow up. I don’t micromanage them asking every 2 hours if it’s been done. I follow up on the results; “I know you were reaching out to Joe yesterday, how did the call go and when is our follow  up meeting?

As each member of the team finds their rhythm, I follow up less, getting out of their way allowing them the autonomy to make great things happen. Some don’t find that rhythm, and my follow-up does become micromanagement, like harping on my children to get their teeth brushed. If you find that going to work is like dealing with your children at home, then you have some work to do. You either need to set the appropriate expectations, show them the way, so you can get out of the way or start sending people to timeout.

If you have some of these challenges, I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at  “Connectthedotblog”.

Adventures in Volunteerism

lions in tree

I recently made a rather large career move out of the education space and back into the not for profit arena. The move was calculated and absolutely what I wanted; however to say that the change was disruptive would be a ridiculous understatement.

As an Executive Director my main responsibilities are to drive fundraising initiatives through my Development Directors (often serving as one myself) to exceed revenue goals and to identify, recruit and develop volunteer leadership…the real job.

As frequently happens in my career, I accepted an opportunity where there was a lot of repair work to be done. The organizations reputation had been somewhat tarnished in the community due to excessive turnover and ineffective leadership.

My challenge was not renewing the sponsor and donor relationships. It was not in identifying new partners and revenue streams. It wasn’t even in digesting the mountains of information that I needed to understand and be able to articulate regarding our organization. The challenge was navigating the volunteer jungle.

The Old Guard reminds me of the staunchy British safari hunters during the Victorian era. The rules of decorum must be followed! The rigid formality of things being just so and the constant distrust of outsiders and that which seems ‘new’.

The Old Guard is a wonderful combination of knowledge, experience and tradition. They bring a level of grace and sophistication to every endeavor. The elite  want to be in their company and part of what they are doing. However, the elite are a small and finite group. Finding a way to engage your Old Guard with the future generations of philanthropists and activists may prove your greatest safari adventure yet.

This is the adventure I’m currently on. I can tell you I have a long way to go; however I can share a few early learning lessons. First, they don’t see themselves as the Old Guard, no really they don’t, so you can not treat them that way. No detail is too small, they don’t like to be caught off guard and they do want to know everything that is going on…or look like they do. The key take away here is over communicate.

Over Communicate

  • Be clear, concise and to the point – over communicate does not mean be verbose.
  • Set expectations for communication early; do they prefer email, phone, text, etc.?
  • Communicate how they best want to receive information. (It doesn’t hurt to follow up with secondary form just to be safe.)
  • Always be respectful! This is so important, don’t be too informal, speak to them with the respect they deserve.
  • Finally always, always, always be polite. This statement is not contingent upon their being polite and that is the hard part.

I’m sure as I continue on this journey there will be many other learning lessons. Some will probably come easier  than others, all will be important and many will benefit me no matter what industry I work in.

Photo credit given to my talented father-in-law Paul Stuetze from his African Safari adventures.

 

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