Leadership in 463 steps…blog #86

View from the Duomo, Florence, Italy

I am basically an impatient person; a person of action. Multi-tasking comes easy and being in the midst of the ‘action’ is stimulating. My mind works fast! I receive information and quickly sort through it to get to a point of resolution. Making decisions is fairly easy for me. However; through the school of hard knocks, I have learned that impatience, action, quickly assimilating information, multi-tasking, and fast decision making is not always a good thing! In fact, it’s rarely a good thing when, as leaders, we are faced with making decisions that impact those we are called to serve and support.

Many people have heard of the concept ‘balcony view’. It refers to the mental (or physical) action of stepping back and gaining perspective. I first heard about it shortly after visiting the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, in Florence, Italy. We had spent a few days visiting places like the Galleria Dell’ Accademia and were moved by Michelangelo’s David, an impressive 17′ statue of detailed strength and beauty. We leisurely walked through the Uffizi Gallery, awed by the magnificent paintings by artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, and da Vinci. And of course, we delighted in the many cafés with their delicious pastries and memorable coffee. We quickly learned the difference between al tavolo and al banco pricing! Exploring Florence was such an amazing experience.

After putting on many foot-miles, our final adventure was to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo. The staircase quickly narrowed to a spiral climb – suffocating for a claustrophobic!   

However; once we broke into the warmth of the afternoon sun, we were rewarded with the most magnificent view…Florence from 114 metres! We could trace the path of our explorations, see each location in relationship to others, and even notice places we didn’t realize existed. I think you get where I’m going with this. 

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Florence, but until we made the climb to the top – to the balcony – it was a series of magnificent, but isolated experiences.

Heifetz/Grashow, and Linsky added to the Balcony View concept by referring to the action of – “moving from the dance floor to the balcony“. We love the  dance floor. We love being at the heart of the action, enjoying the energy of everyone dancing to the same beat. It’s difficult to pull ourselves away, to step up to the balcony and be an observer rather than a participant. But as leaders, we must. But what are we doing on the balcony?

Heifetz and his co-authors suggest three activities in which we need to engage from the balcony: observe, interpret, and intervene.

If you were to ask what we saw from the top of the Duomo, each of us would have described something different — all correct, but different. This is an important part of observing. We look at things through the lens of our personal experience and bias, so when on the balcony our view or perspective is broadened a more inclusive view of what’s happening in the everyday workings of our team or organization. The authors encourage leaders to then move into the practice of interpreting what they have observed. Once more we need to acknowledge the fact that we interpret our observations differently than our colleagues. In my previous blog I introduced the importance of checking assumptions…this is a perfect example of how the practice of critical thinking will enhance how we interpret our observations. In our human desire to get to solutions, we may tend rush through this interpreting stage. Taking time to consider, to ponder, to reflect, will enhance our accurate deciphering of what our senses take in. This pause and will greatly impact the interventions or actions we put forth. Remember, action is the result of decision making. 

I appreciate how John Dewey approaches decision making. Following a close examination of the situation (as noted above), consideration should be given to possible alternative directions in addressing the matter at hand, weighing the evidence, choosing what is deemed to be the best path, and then taking action. But it doesn’t end there. Leaders need to identify when the decision will be reviewed and potentially altered.

We took 463 vertical, winding, narrow steps to get to the top of the Duomo, a very intentional climb. It would have been foolish to immediately do the return trip without taking time to pause and appreciate the view. And, once we got to ground level again, we discussed what we saw, what amazed us, what we missed seeing in our Florence walk-about, and what we would still do. In other words, we didn’t make the climb only to ignore what we observed. We observed, interpreted, and finally intervened with a new course of action. 

Leaders of people, are you ready for a Duomo experience? It’s truly worth it.     

References:

Heifetz, R. & Grashow, A, & Linsky, M. (2009). The theory behind the practice. A brief introduction to the adaptive leadership framework. Harvard Business Press. https://cambridge-leadership.com/documents/Ch-2-Theory-Behind-the-Practice.pdf

PSDP-Resources and Tools: Moving from the dance floor to the balcony. https://practice-supervisors.rip.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Moving-from-the-dance- floor-to-the-balcony.pdf

University of Massachusetts (n.d.). 7 steps to effective decision making. https://www.umassd.edu/media/umassdartmouth/fycm/decision_making_process.pdf

Photo of Duomo view by Chloe Xie on Unsplash

Leading and critical thinking…blog #85

In my leadership class this week we will be looking at the importance of critical thinking. We hear about it all the time, but fail to realize it truly is one of the most important elements to consider at this time.  I began digging by looking at Stephen D. Brookfield’s book, Teaching for Critical Thinking,and it has certainly created a deeper desire to more analytically consider my own ability to think critically. A word I learned during my Post Grad studies was metacognition. It’s a great word that is packed with so much substance.

“…thinking about one’s thinking. It refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning; and b) oneself as a thinker and learner.” Nancy Chick

When we put these two things together, critical thinking and metacognition, something really important begins to emerge. Consider these questions as you continue reading:

  1. Do I engage critical thinking during these times?
  2. What assumptions influence my decisions?
  3. Am I clear on my values?
  4. Who am I focusing on?

So let’s put this in context of what leaders are facing in our current leadership ethos. Not only do they face the challenge of guiding their teams through uncharted waters, but in the process they are expected to learn new tools, new terminology, new ways to motivate and measure performance…I could go on! However; perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of leadership today looks at preserving culture within an organization. Or possibly the question is more about whether there is a culture worth preserving? Or maybe the realization hits that it’s time to consider the health of the culture, or to examine if what was believed (stated) as being the organizational culture is in fact what teams and customers are experiencing?

My intent is certainly not to address organizational culture in this blog (perhaps at another time), but to look at what critical thinking skills a leader needs to employ when examining such matters.

In his writings, Brookfield suggests the purpose of thinking critically is “…so we can take informed actions…not just to survive, but also to live and love well”. Beautiful. In order to do this he states that individuals need to discover what assumptions influence the way they think and act. He then encourages the checking of those assumptions as to whether or not they are valid and reliable. Finally, Brookfield urges that time is taken to envision our assumptions from others perspectives and points of view. All this before any informed action is taken.

But (and there so often is a ‘but’), the ribbon that must run through all of this is: values. What values actually inform our critical thinking. As leaders, do our values encourage critical thinking that leads to decisions and actions that truly are in the best interest of those we are entrusted to serve?

Back to leadership ethos. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ethos as “The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement.

Moving that into the realm of leadership ethos, we learn that:

Leadership ethos is associated with actions which add value, honour commitments to stakeholders and society…leaders…choose service over self-interest.” Dr. Ken Kalala Ndalamba

Getting back to those guiding questions, let me once again ask, as leaders do we:

  1. Take time to think about how we are thinking critically when navigating and guiding our teams through uncharted waters?
  2. Do we stop to consider what assumptions are influencing our decisions?
  3. Are we clear about, and committed to, the values that guide our actions?
  4. Does the leadership ethos we create result in putting those we serve over self-interest?

Interested in talking more about this? Please feel free to email me, reach out via LinkedIn, or simply comment on this post.

References

Chick, Nancy. (nd). Metacognition: thinking about one’s thinking. Center for Teaching, Vanderbult University. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/

Brookfield, Stephen D. (2012). Teaching for Critical Thinking : Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions: Vol. 1st ed. Jossey-Bass.

Ndalamba, Ken. (2017). Leadership Ethos and Culturally Oriented Strategic Management: A Conceptual Framework and Research Propositions. Journal of Values-Based Leadership. 11. 10.22543/0733.62.1216.

Photo by Marcel Strauß | @martzzl on Unsplash

Leading and adaptivity…blog #84

Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash

Have you ever been on your way to an appointment, perhaps with a client, or for a social event and were met with unexpected road construction causing you to be unfashionably late? Or perhaps you were set to make a presentation to a client only to discover the Internet gremlins had done their worst somewhere in the cyber space around your computer and caused the connection to be less than adequate? I have, and it was not a pretty sight! Adjustments, re-arrangements, rescheduling, and great apologies had to be made before things got back on track. Things happen, things outside our control, that call for change. It takes time to get our head into a different arrangement, to get over the frustration of the disruption, to recalibrate, to settle on what appears to be a less than outcome. But is it always a less than outcome?

Several years ago, when our kids were much younger, we set out on a family trip to Disney World where we would meet up with my brother and his family. We were all so excited! Our family was travelling from British Columbia and my brother’s family from Ontario. These times together were precious, and so much fun. Everything was packed, we boarded the plane, we were good to go. Until ‘it’ happened. Hurricane Gordon.

Our flight path was interrupted and forced an overnight stopover in Denver, Colorado. We were not prepared! Being the eternal optimists and dearly looking forward to the feeling of the Florida sun on our winter white skin, we were dressed in shorts, t-shirts, light jackets, sandals, and no access to our checked luggage (another reason to fly with only carry-on!). The excitement meter plummeted from extreme high to extreme low in a matter of minutes. Even though this turn of events was totally out of our control, the disappointment was palpable. Sitting in our hotel room, gathering our hotel supplied hygiene necessities, it was hard to fathom the ‘less than’ outcome could be anything but gloom. Until ‘it’ happened.

A forgotten shared memory was recollected by my husband. A memory I had shared but long forgotten. You see, several years earlier I had travelled throughout the US with a singing group. As it happens, at the time of my 19th birthday we were performing in Denver, Colorado. A forgotten shared memory was recollected by my husband. A memory I had shared but long forgotten. You see, several years earlier I had travelled throughout the US with a singing group. As it happens, at the time of my 19th birthday we were performing in Denver, Colorado. That’s when I was introduced to Casa Bonita the most exciting Mexican restaurant I have ever experienced. Food, cliff divers, mariachi band, caves, and sopapillas just waiting to be drenched in honey. Why I hadn’t thought of introducing this adventure to my family is beyond me! However, Rob was on it! Before long we left the warmth of the hotel, tip toed through the snow in sandals, climbed into a taxi and journeyed to Casa Bonita. It was amazing…maybe a little cornier than I had remembered, but well worth the thrill of sharing my former life with my family. And they loved it!

Café in Centrum, Amsterdam set up for working from anywhere

So where am I going with this. Some changes are totally beyond our control. Right now most organizations have been forced to make a change to their SOP. Life in the office as we know it is no more, but not because we chose it…the decision has been made for us. Some may think that the outcome will create a ‘less than’ result, however, I beg to differ. To be sure, a disequilibrium has been created in which we now need to live, but until ‘it’ happened, many organizations, or employees, would not have considered the opportunities provided by a work from anywhere concept. My intent is not to go into the many proven benefits to all involved with WFA, but rather put it in the context of change. To bring attention to how we, as leaders of people, have been handed a mulligan, a do-over. We have an opportunity to do business differently, to adapt rather than mourn the loss of how things used to be; to take advantage of an unplanned change and re-write the next phase of how we work, where we work, when we work, and what work we do.

I’m not saying any of this is easy…far from it. In fact, leaders are called to be the pioneers in this journey of discovery and transition. As leaders we are called to practice adaptive leadership. In other words,

To practice adaptive leadership, you have to help people navigate through a period of disturbance as they sift through what is essential and what is expendable, and as they experiment with solutions to the adaptive challenges at hand.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky

Are you up for the challenge?

 

Laying the foundations for my ESL…Blog #83

I’m a planner. I have a need to look forward, to think ahead, to anticipate possibilities. I have a mind that once it starts thinking and planning, it’s difficult to shut off. Needless to say, the prospect of a full year dedicated to researching and learning about leadership in complex, hybrid, and work from anywhere teams has my mind running at full speed. However, a persuasive part of me, a small but unrelenting voice, constantly urges me to slow down, and lean into those parts of my strength base that will lay a solid foundation for an amazing year.

Today, this inner voice prompted me to once again consider my strengths, as well as some blind spots I need to be aware of along the journey. (Yes, I am a strong proponent of StrengthFinder and use it in my classes and with clients.) I’m pretty passionate about the need for leaders to know themselves – not for the purpose of self-edification, but rather for bringing the best of who they are to the teams they lead, AND surround themselves with others whose strengths when combined with the leader’s, create amazing results.

As a side note, if you are an individual in a position of influencing others, I highly recommend taking the time to get to know ‘you’. Consider looking into such psychometric assessment tools as Strengths Based Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, or High Potential Trait Index. Remember, this isn’t about navel-gazing but rather growing self-awareness , a key quality found in effective leaders.

Ok, so going back to my original reflections. I spent some time going through my psychometric assessment report from StrengthFinder; these statements really resonated with where I am, today, in light of my Extended Study Leave (ESL). Let me share some of my report insights (in no particular order of relevance):

  • It’s very likely that you might be eager to get started on a project once you realize what can be accomplished in the coming weeks, months, or years.
  • Your mind allows you to venture beyond the commonplace, the familiar, or the obvious.
  • You can make things happen by turning thoughts into action.
  • You refuse to be stifled by traditions or trapped by routines. You bristle when someone says, “We can’t change that. We’ve always done it this way.”
  • You enjoy looking at the world from different perspectives and are always searching for connections.
  • You feel confident in your ability to take risks and manage your own life. You have an inner compass that gives you certainty in your decisions.
  • You are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. You have the ability to figure out how different people can work together productively.
  • You love to learn, and you intuitively know how you learn best. Your natural ability to pick up and absorb information quickly and to challenge yourself to continually learn more keeps you on the cutting edge.

Remember I mentioned the idea of the ‘blind spots’ I need to watch out for? Here are some that hit those ‘ouch’ buttons for me:

  • Because Relators (that’s me) typically do not trust others implicitly and people have to earn your trust over time, some may think you are hard to get to know.
  • When working with others, sometimes they may misinterpret your strong Strategic talents as criticism.
  • Sometimes you might charge ahead and act without a solid plan B.
  • Because you speak with authority, you might be used to getting the final word.
  • Before you commit to something, make sure you have the time and resources you need to do it right.
  • You love the process of learning so much that the outcome might not matter to you. Be careful not to let the process of knowledge acquisition get in the way of your results and productivity.

So, with all this in mind, I am compelled to slow down, take a breath, create the plan, and follow it! The actual ‘agenda’ of actionable activities are laid out, thanks to the demand for a well thought out proposal required by the college. The ‘plan’ will address everything to be arranged before we hit ‘go’ on August 1, 2021. It’s about laying the foundation. The plan needs to be determined before jumping into the various research activities, in various locations, before meeting amazing people and expanding my learning, and before embracing new experiences. Time and focus must be first be given to the planning…it has to take the front seat in my mind…for now. Stay tuned as the plan emerges.

Note: if you want to talk some more about the tools mentioned in the blog, please reach out to me at roberta@samisremote.com

Graphics from Pexel.com

Approved for research!…Blog #82

On November 27th, at 11am, I received an email from the President of our institute that brought such joy and excitement I was stopped in my tracks! 

Dear Roberta, regarding your Proposal for an Extended Study Leave, I am pleased to advise that your proposal has been approved as follows:

August 1, 2021 to July 31, 2022, in Europe, for the purpose of conducting research that will examine what it takes to lead successfully in a new, uncharted context that has been coined a “new normal”.

It took quite a while to peel me off the roof, and needless to say, my eyes glistened with tears of joy. What this means, is that for a full year, I get to focus on an area I am very passionate about: remote work. My first research, conducted with my son Nathan, focused on Competencies for Success as Remote Workers. That initial learning introduced me to so many amazing people both in North America and Europe. 

Since the publication of that research early 2019, our world has changed in ways none of us could ever have imagined. We all became remote workers, or more accurately, ‘workers from home’. In a matter of days, even hours, organizations had to do a whirlwind pivot. No time for preparation, no time for analysis, no time for decisions…the move was pretty much instantaneous. Being thrown into the deep end (so to speak), has the tendency to result in either sink or swim; sadly we have witnessed both. Many organizations made the switch with reasonable success, but others were devastated. And we are still transitioning. It’s no longer organizations who operate remotely vs co-located, but rather we are seeing a growth in a hybrid option for work. Working from anywhere has become a concept organizations are getting their collective heads around as both employers and employees have witnessed the great benefits of a move from traditional co-located workforces. The narrative around remote work has changed, and continues to change.

I have always felt strongly about the role of leadership. I take it very seriously, and highly respect those who take the posture of a ‘reluctant leader’. Psychologist Dan B. Allender authored a book back in 2011 entitled Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness. For the past year, many leaders have realized the way they have always done leadership no longer works. They have found themselves leading with a limp. And I greatly admire them. They have had to hit the ground running, limp and all. These are the leaders I want to learn from, and thus am super excited to meet them, chat with them, glean from them, and then share what I learn with the myriad of individuals out there who find themselves leading in an era of continual change. 

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

As I continue to learn about Adaptive Leadership, Appreciative Inquiry, and Design Thinking, I want to once again take an approach that seeks to integrate evidence based research with stories and examples from industry…I want to hear your stories, stories of how you have transitioned from co-located to working from anywhere leadership. I want to learn what you have found to be effective, and what just doesn’t work. I also want to learn (and share) the why behind what works, and what doesn’t, in leading work from anywhere teams. 

Please, reach out to me with your stories, or to arrange a video call, via roberta@samisremote.com or linkedin.com/in/robertasawatzky to share your stories and experiences.

 

 

Working through it…Blog #81

I truly believe we are meant to live in community; to share life with others, to laugh, cry, learn, explore, and journey together. I have journeyed so with a dear friend and colleague and have learned so much from her. For this blog, I invited Candace to share some of her personal journey and learnings with you regarding mental health–I know you’ll benefit from her story. Please enjoy…

“I care about you…and I care about this place. You aren’t yourself and I need the full ‘you’ for the work we have ahead of us. Take the rest of the week off, then on Monday, we’ll check in and I want to hear from you what your plan is to get well …and what you need from me.”

This conversation happened about 7 years ago but I can recall it like it was yesterday. I remember how embarrassed, angry (at myself), relieved, and determined I felt. I knew I wasn’t well, but what I didn’t know was that it was affecting my work. Well, I knew it was affecting my work, but I didn’t know that the covering up, compensating, and hiding I was expending energy on wasn’t working as well as I thought it was.

My work provided meaning, a sense of control when a great deal of my life was feeling out of control, and was a huge part of my identity. The message that my performance was not up to standard and that I was letting my Executive Director down was terrifying and triggered the fight response I needed at that time.

We’ve come a long way in our view of and approach to mental illness in the workplace. Historically, we just whispered behind people’s backs, marginalized them, and believed that stopping work (i.e. going on a leave) was what they should do. Thankfully, campaigns to increase awareness and reduce stigma are part of our culture now, and there are champions for mentally healthier workplaces in every sector. Many workplaces and leaders have come to understand that people who live with mental illness can be healthy, functioning contributors on our teams and in our workplaces, and it’s the workplaces who have provided flexible work arrangements who have often been the most successful in retaining and engaging employees with less visible disabilities like mental illness.

While I’ve heard many workplace leaders express concern about the mental health of their employees (and rightfully so) these last several months, I wonder if this may be the time for people with lived experience with mental illness to shine and contribute in new ways?

Struggling with figuring out how to be well when it feels like any minute the world might crash around you? A person with a chronic and persistent mental illness will say, “Been there.”

Wondering what the right rhythm in your work/personal life is to effectively manage all that has to be done when you just feel tired and scared? Yup.

Feel like your brain is exhausted from managing all the scary thoughts running around? Uh-huh.

Following are a few thoughts to help us promote mentally healthy workplaces, when we’re working apart:

·       Wondering how your staff are doing? Ask them or create opportunities for everyone to check in and respond to one another. For many, working from home has meant disconnection from their work friends and so loneliness has added to everything else that’s hard about this time.

·       Provide a lunch and learn that addresses some of the challenges of balancing work and caregiving pressures or just work and life!

·       Learn about people who live with mental illness and have learned to be well at the same time. Search for stories of resiliency and learn from people’s lived experience. I have been well for years now, but know that I am more at risk than maybe others are and so need to be vigilant in employing strategies that help me be well. Want to learn more about this? Click here to access some great resources that can help you learn more about resiliency and mental health.

·       Behave your way into being. Every day I get up and start doing the things that I know promote health for my body and brain. Trust that doing these things will make a difference even if you can’t feel the results right away.

·       Add a WWW practice to the end of your day. Martin Seligman, author of “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being” recommends a practice of writing down What Went Well each day. He suggests identifying three things that went well plus reflecting on why they went well. This exercise has been shown to positively impact mental health.

·       Book a bit of worry time when you need it. Adam Grant in his Work-Life podcast describes this suggestion in more detail, but in short, he suggests that if your brain is worried about something, a strategy to help can be to set a timer and let it run. Worry, think about what might happen and then identify a step or two that you can take to address the fear or worry.

·       Ask for help. You are not weak if you reach out for help and you don’t need to wait until it’s “bad enough.” If your mood has been low for more than a couple of weeks and the normal things that would help you feel better don’t seem to be helping, reach out.

Click here if you want a place to start

Work can and does play a critical role in most people’s wellbeing. One final suggestion? Take a few minutes to reflect on how *you* are doing at managing work-life wellness and lead by example. Notice and give permission where people are attempting to set boundaries or when they need boundaries relaxed. You’re not alone. We’ll work through this together.  IMG_3492.JPG

Candace Giesbrecht is a Strategic HR Coach and Consultant. Thanks for your heart felt contribution to Probe and Ponder.

Is Zoom fatigue really the issue? Blog #80

My wall calendar ‘But First, Coffee’ Brush Dance

It’s amazing how a term quickly gains global adoption…zoom fatigue. Who among us hasn’t used it, or at least heard it – and we all know what it means. But lately I’ve been wondering if it hasn’t become a scape goat of sorts. Let me explain.

Besides coming alongside organizations learning how to effectively work with remote or hybrid teams, I’m also a business professor. I’m part of an amazing, supportive, collaborative faculty…no complaints there! Most are on-line teaching 12 hours a week, and that doesn’t include the additional student meetings, and other faculty related meetings, the above normal preparation, and an audience who are on-line up to 18 hours a week taking classes. Outside of work, many choose to hold social gatherings on-line in lieu of face to face…but my gut says those social events are lessoning. This is life as a post-secondary educator…for now, and we get that. However…  

The common theme I hear, not just from my professor colleagues, but others I speak with, is ‘we are just so tired!’. Enter ‘zoom fatigue’…thus my question; are we really tired from being on-line too much? For me, I really don’t think that’s totally where the blame lies. The bottom line is that life is challenging right now. Everything takes extra effort. We are less active, but more worn out.

I find myself longing for the ‘good old days’…the good old days of summer 2019 when we relished our sojourns in Europe with family and friends, or even Christmas past! Remember the days when we could call up a friend to go for a coffee or a glass of wine at our favourite hangout? Or when we could have a bunch of folks over for a games night, that was really an excuse to gather and share food, good wine, a newly discovered craft brew, and of course, lots of laughter. Ah yes, the good old days.

Business is adapting, we are moving past triage and settling into how business operates in a pandemic inflicted world, and beyond. We are learning new ways to communicate, to collaborate, to lead, to follow, and to deliver services to our valued customers. Most are saying they will never return to business as usual…so much has been learned about productivity and efficiency that new practices and policies have replaced more traditional approaches. We have truly hit a crossroads; we can no longer do things the way they’ve always been done.

But some business aren’t able to adapt due to the nature of their offering, and for them I truly feel pained.

Along with a new context comes the need for upskilling and reskilling around what it takes to lead an unfamiliar team construct; leading hybrid teams probably offers the greatest challenges, but also presents amazing diversity opportunities (more about that in another blog). As humans we were created to learn, grow, adapt..and we will.

But we are still tired. We, most of us, have focused on ensuring the needs of our students, customers, and children have been met. All good! However, what has fallen by the wayside is figuring out how to maintain our own life balance and sanity. ‘Normal’ activities, plans, escapes, or rejuvenators are no longer as accessible. As already mentioned, spur of the moment meetups, in public or in our homes, takes extra planning, if even possible at all. Planning weekend getaways or vacations seem to lie more in the realm of dreams and wishes than actual concrete possibilities.

I don’t know about you, but my default is simply to work more. Not a wise alternative, but a reality. Bad habits are setting in, work time is slowly seeping into what should be down time. The self talk of ‘just hang in there for another month…’ has been replaced with even greater uncertainly about when ‘it’ will end and the world opens up to once more enjoy physically being ‘there’, as in actually visiting the Louvre vs taking a virtual tour.

While I am no psychologist, I’m starting to learning that the way to survive and thrive in this crazy period of time, starts in the mind. We can’t change the reality of what life looks like, but perhaps we can reframe how we look at it, and let a cognitive change influence how we act from an emotional and behavioural framework. My friend keeps harping on the importance of a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset…she’s got something there!

So, that’s the challenge I need to work through, and invite you to join me in the journey. We all have many precious humans in our lives, and we never want to stop caring for and supporting them. Because of each one of them, we need to adapt more than our business practices, we need to adjust our outlook and mindsets to making life now and in the future something extraordinary.

Sounds easy…hmmm, not at all! But necessary, and possible. One tiny action is where I need to start…what might your one tiny action be?        

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, summer 2019

Developing remote employees using a results-based approach…Blog #79

In preparing for a recent workshop, my colleague, Candace Giesbrecht, and I were discussing the importance of employee development in a remote work setting. It became clear that three considerations are vital:

  1. Clear, measurable expectations
  2. Access & competence in tools to do the work
  3. Leveraging synchronous & asynchronous tools

Results-based performance management is nothing new. As leaders, we know the importance of setting clear performance goals with employees, getting their agreement, measuring the results at set intervals (quarterly – annually), and then having development conversations where we coach, teach, encourage, correct and invest in their development.

When our team members are working remotely, these steps are even more important. When working remotely, team members are missing all the organic opportunities for development that happen when co-located. Those times when they can be pulled into a meeting at the last minute and can gain exposure to aspects of the business they might not be privy to in their day to day roles. Those times when they even come into your office and get to be looped into the thing you’ve been mapping out on a whiteboard. Or even just the opportunities to see you nod approvingly – to know they’re on the right track or – to receive the help to take their work to the next level.

When developing our employees remotely, goals and feedback cycles should be shorter and more often. Structure the goals so that there are more frequent opportunities for wins. One way to do this is to structure expectations in sprints that lead into more bite-sized, tangible projects. Then, when providing feedback to your team members, strive to make your feedback competency-based, rather than just focused on completion.  By taking more of a project-oriented approach to performance management, watch for opportunities to create “Inside Gigs” or mini ”stretch” roles that help your team members to grow and develop.

But even with a results based approach, people should be expected to behave in a certain way…this is where competencies really come in. How well do they communicate, self-manage, warrant trust, approach work in a disciplined manner, take initiative, adapt to new and potentially difficult situations, exude confidence.

The last two bullets listed above are clearly related. Competencies related to tools (access and proficiency)  are more critical when working remotely. This must be part of your onboarding and part of your team’s ongoing process improvement. Tools used poorly or incompetently can result in inefficiencies, lost productivity, frustration and – DAMAGE that can be very difficult to repair on individual and company levels.

Immigrants of 50 years!..Blog #78

It’s amazing how life happens, and great intentions get pushed aside. That’s what is happening to my blog…life! (be prepared, this is a long one!)

Bangor, N. Ireland (before my sister was born)

However, our family hit a milestone yesterday that simply screams for reflection. October 1, 2020 was our 50th anniversary of immigrating from N. Ireland to Canada. 50 years! I can hardly believe it. How life has changed over that time. And what a courageous decision for our parents to make – they sold everything and packed up 3 kids to fly across the ocean to embark on a new life. Landing in Ontario early October brought with it the most picturesque autumn colours…little did we realize that we were being lulled into the transition of Ontario winters.

I recall the first snowfall while living in Bracebridge, Ontario. We had never seen that much snow, 6 feet of pure glory (at least that’s what we kids thought). The downside was the freezing temperatures that came with that white wonderland; the gooey content in our noses froze shut as we walked what seemed like 10 miles to school.

There are so many stories I could share of the adjusting, adapting, re-learning, culture shock, missing family and friends back in Ireland. Still, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. That ‘starting life over’ decision made by Dad and Mum lay the foundation for such amazing opportunities for me and my siblings. We have all chosen different career paths, live in different parts of Canada, but share a common bond and love for all that Ireland instilled into the very core of our beings.

Obviously, this immigrant family of 5 grew over the past 50 years. Our parents started a clan of what now includes 3 amazing in-law spouses, 7 wonderful grandkids, and 15 of the most adorable great grandkids. Sadly, Mum developed early on-set Alzheimer’s and didn’t live long enough to meet any of her great grandkids…such a loss for her, and her grandkids. Dad hasn’t fared much better, vascular dementia and geographical distance presented a barrier we just couldn’t beat. He is now in a care facility.

Sadness and loss aside, life has been amazing! As I was reflecting on this major life re-direction, I was struck by the thought that while this immigration greatly impact my brother, sister and me, it might also have had an impact on our kids…so I asked three of the grandkids, ‘what difference do you think it made in your lives having a parent raised during their formative years in another country?’ I love their responses so thought I would share them with you (with their permission of course).     

Nanny McReady, mum, and me having a picnic at the sea.

Shannon (mother of the youngest great grandchild): My mom was born in Ireland and due to that I have always had a fascination and a small sense of pride for the country. It had always been my dream to travel to Ireland and experience the culture myself. I have now been 3 times, with the most recent trip taking me to the city where my mom was born, Belfast. At that time, I heard a bit of the history which created so many questions creating the need for a conversation with my mom; it left me wanting to know more from her perspective. Since visiting there, I have a greater sense of pride for Ireland; even though I wasn’t born there I feel Ireland is part of me. Having had a parent born in a different country, which they love and have many fond memories of, means I have two cultures to celebrate.

Nathan (father of 6 great grandkids): My mother’s Irish-ness was revealed to me in subtle ways as I grew up. Despite many attempts, I could never get her to talk in an Irish accent, and I heard very few stories of what her years in Ireland were like. Even still, I knew that her childhood was a deep part of her, even if it was a secret part of her. I’d later learn how much she felt a need to establish a new identity once she arrived in Canada, and how that sadly meant suppressing some of the very things that made her, her. It would be many years before I’d come to see how deeply Ireland was part of my mum.

As an adult, I moved to Ireland with my wife and children. Mum and dad’s first visit allowed me to begin to get to know my mother’s ‘secret identify.’ Whether it was in the way she approached the Irish Sea with holy reverence, or the way she cherished Guinness as only an Irish born woman can, or even in her deeply emotional reaction as we drove through Belfast and felt the deep fear held in memory by the murals depicting the fighters of “peace.”

I suppose for me, without really knowing it, Ireland has always been a part of me because of her, and I knew this to be true the first time I took in the rolling green hills and wild seas myself. I felt…home? No, not home, but at least I felt like I belonged there, just as she always will.

Alicia (mother of two great grandkids, and oldest grandchild): Growing up I really didn’t think anything of the fact that my dad had spent his formative years in Northern Ireland. It wasn’t like he looked different, or even sounded any different than any of my friends’ parents. I mean, I guess the red hair (what was left of it at that point), and the freckles that cover about 98% of his body did stand out, now that I think about it. And then there were the odd expressions…I remember going to someone’s house with him, and he told my brothers and I to go “knock the door”. My smarty-pants (can I say smart-ass) brother inquired where exactly we should knock the door to? And then there’s the cutlery. Heaven forbid you eat a meal without a knife! How on earth could you get food on a fork if not for a knife? I jest.

In all seriousness, having a parent raised in a different country informs so much of how we were raised. Going to Grammar School in Northern Ireland created in my dad such a strong work ethic. Schoolwork and grades were always something so important and such a priority for us. Thankfully, he didn’t adopt the strict rules he grew up with in school, and thankfully he never implemented the Ruler as a form of punishment either. For my dad, growing up meant soccer, or more accurately “football”, and seeing him instill his love for that sport, as well as rugby, in my brothers and myself, is something that has fostered in us a love of sports, and competition. Being born and raised in another country, and then as a family choosing to leave that country and come to a new one, starting a brand-new life is such a huge decision. While that wasn’t my dad’s decision independently, but rather his family’s decision, it is still something that informed so much of who he is, and how he and my mom chose to raise their family. I see that through that uprooting, family becomes so much more important, something not to be taken for granted. And while, we may not have always lived close to family, we have always been intentional about being a part of each other’s lives. It was also always so fascinating to see my dad refer back to his Irishness, his lilt if not a full accent, when we were with his extended family. It was like we got to see a bit more of his true self. My dad fought hard not to stick out when they moved here, his aforementioned flaming red hair and freckles, as well as the fact that he was tiny after having been skipped ahead a couple of grades made him stand out. And so, he tried to blend in, tried to fit in, tried to lose his accent. And while, as a teenage girl I totally got that – that need to assimilate – as I grew up, it also made me want to stand out, to be proud of being half-Irish. Perhaps as a result of that, and my love of that accent, it has pushed me to really embrace my Irish heritage. I am proud of the choice that my family made to leave Northern Ireland, but I am also proud to be Irish.

We are a truly blessed family, and even though we are spread out across the globe, there is a deep love for each other and an immense gratitude to Dad and Mum for their sacrifice. And we are, and always will be, Irish at our very core.

The shore of the Irish Sea

One on-line professor to another…Blog #77

That space between

I have recently learned a new word, liminal space. Indulge me as I share a definition with you.

The liminal space can be seen as a transformative space. It occurs when things such as our thoughts, knowledge or ideas are in some way challenged, when our understanding of something is unsettled rendering it fluid. That space of in-between is a state of liminality, a transition in the learning process, the crossing of a threshold. From here we begin to reconfigure our prior understandings, perspectives and conceptual schema. We let go of the conceptual stance we had. Once we reach this post-liminal mode the shift is irreversible and “alters our way of being in the world”. (O’Sullivan as cited in Meyer, Land & Baillie).

We are at the start of September, on the brink of meeting new groups of students who will bring with them life experiences, hunger to learn, need to challenge, and always the ability to push us to new levels of learning. We are in a liminal space.

Over the summer, as business faculty colleagues, we shared our learnings, with a great deal of focus being on the technology of making on-line learning most effective.

As we now prepare for classes to begin next week, making sure the course outlines are completed and submitted, assessments figured out, technology working, welcome videos created, and so on…I would like to invite you to pause for a moment. Let’s put technology aside and think about the humans we are preparing this material for. Who are they? Where are they from? What do they enjoy? What are their fears? What are their dreams and aspirations? What liminal spaces have they been experiencing as together we transition from the familiar to the unknown?

As professors, how are we going to discover this important information giving us a peek into the lives of these amazing humans? We have learned that teaching concepts on-line takes more time than in a face-to-face context, making it challenging to get through all the material we are accustomed to. We have also learned that content needs to be delivered both synchronously and asynchronously. And, we know that facilitating interaction with students on-line is challenging, but oh so very vital!

As you work on your lesson plans, can I invite you to intentionally build in 10 minutes to connect with the students, and help them connect with each other? Give them time to ‘arrive’ in the space. Help them to get to know who they are learning with, and help them get to know you as a person, not just a Prof. When students feel like they belong, are safe, and have a voice, they will engage and learn so much more. And remember to combine on-screen and off-screen activities…screen fatigue is a real thing (as you know!).

I trust your liminal space experience will result in exciting things as together we re-write the learning adventure.

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