Category: Extended Study Leave

Music and leadership…blog #95

Charleville House, Ireland

I love music. 

Growing up, our home was always filled with music coming from the record player or piano as one of us kids practiced scales and scores for upcoming lessons and exams (my brother was the “star pupil” in our home). We loved listening to both our parents tickling the ivories; mom was an amazing sight reader, while dad just heard the song and played-by-ear.

While piano was the bane of my existence, I found my stride playing the clarinet in the high school concert band, and singing in various groups. If not for music, there was simply no point in going to school! Years later, as our kids reached high school, Christmas and year-end concerts were such a highlight as these dedicated students and gifted teachers produced some of the best jazz, choral, and orchestral music to packed crowds of proud family and friends. The music continued to ring out in our home as our son applied his musical passion to jam sessions with his friends, preparing for whatever gigs they could line up. Music was, and is, core to our lives.

Needless to say, when I came across the book Yes to the Mess; surprising leadership lessons from Jazz by Frank J. Barrett, I was intrigued. As both a jazz musician and a Professor of Management and Global Public Policy, Barrett understands the meaning of improvisation. He proposes, “What we need to add to our list of managerial skills is improvisation—the art of adjusting, flexibly adapting, learning through trial-and-error initiatives, inventing ad hoc responses, and discovering as you go.”

Wikipedia describes improvisation as “a very spontaneous performance without specific or scripted preparation.” So how can this apply to leadership, especially in light of the new team configurations leaders are now called on to lead? Ask most leaders today, and they will tell you there is no script for what they are currently facing, similar to a group of musicians getting together to create music. However, the success of great improvisation, whether in music or leadership, depends on a key ingredient, the foundational skill of the players. Those hours of practicing scales, those hours of honing leadership competencies, are the things great improvisation is made of.

However, for many leaders, working without a script can be somewhat daunting. I’m enjoying revisiting complexity theory. We can see through this theory how organizations become more sustainable, adaptive, and innovative…and I love that it recognizes how a combination of chaos and order produces the most creative outcomes. A leader and team can co-create a vision around their shared values, culture, and belonging; however, the path to realizing that vision may not be that straight. The plan may change and take some side trails along the way, and you can be sure obstacles (like a pandemic) will demand a detour. Still, if the goal or vision is clear, a leader and their team can improvise and end up where they want to go.

Bottom line? Embrace the chaos, focus on your people and your shared vision, and listen for the music.

Learning to re-think…blog #94

I love soda bread!

 For those who don’t know what it is, it’s the homemade bread I grew up eating in Ireland. Delicious warm, and even better toasted with lots of butter and marmalade. Sometimes Mom would add raisins, but even plain, it was scrumptious. It’s the one kind of bread I know how to make, and it turns out great every time. (Yes, this is a picture of my own handy work.

You can imagine my excitement when we turned on the TV and saw that the cooking challenge for the day on the Great British Baking Show was for the bakers to make their version of soda bread. 

Their version of soda bread?

When the challenge was further explained, and the bakers had to take the basic bread and make a savoury and a sweet version, my enthusiasm waned. My horror was fuelled when the creations included things like salmon, olives, blueberries, dried fruit…. How could they do that to Irish Soda Bread? Once the bakes were complete, and the judges did their tasting, I must admit that some combinations of ingredients actually may find their way into my next bake. 

I need to own the fact that I fell prey to the ‘that’s not the way we’ve always done it ’belief; I passed judgement before giving the ideas a chance to play out.

As I approach this research regarding proximity equity in hybrid or work-from-anywhere teams, my desire is to bracket my own beliefs and ideas, and adopt a posture of curiosity, inquiry, and learning. As noted in my previous blog, my learning journey includes interviews, reading books, examining research literature, listening to podcasts, and recording my learnings as I go (and probably several other things that will unexpectedly grab my attention over this next year). 

The book that is currently stretching my thinking is Think Again: the power of knowing what you don’t know, by Adam Grant. If you could see the amount of highlights I made in the book you would grasp the impact this book has had on my thinking! Here’s a quote from the author, 

“Thinking like a scientist involves more than just reacting with an open mind. It means being actively open- minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right— and revising our views based on what we learn.”

Read that over a few times before moving on…I had to. Let me state again that I am 100% Irish, which means I was raised in a home where heated dialogue was welcomed and encouraged, and we learned how to argue our point and get our opinions across before leaving the table. Fairly respectfully, for the most part, but the winner was the one who’s ideas or opinion was strongest, not the person who was the most open to being wrong! The idea of embarking on research, looking for reasons to prove a hypothesis I had already bought into, was actually a refreshing concept. As encouraged by Adam Grant, I’m learning to recognize my cognitive blind spots and revise my thinking accordingly.

In the early stages of this research, I am already finding the need to ask more questions to gain insight into people’s experiences, to intentionally listen hard, to bracket what I think they may say about how a certain situation could or should have been handled. By learning to think again, I find I am beginning to watch and listen for the gaps, the pauses, the unspoken emotions—and to gently probe for what’s not being said. 

As I look for themes about what it takes to lead in this new context, I’m seeing the idea of leaders needing to be willing to re-think their positions, their beliefs; to be ok with admitting they’re wrong. I’m also becoming more aware of the need for leaders to be willing to provide honest, constructive, specific feedback, even if it’s not what their members want to hear. That takes courage and it takes a willingness to maybe not win the boss of the month award; it also demonstrates a deep desire to see their members succeed, to do what it takes to serve their needs, not the leader’s own needs.

A question I may be adding to the interviews going forward…

“If I knew then what I know now, what would I have done differently? How might that inform how I think and act moving forward?”

How would you answer? I’d love to hear about it.

There are so many more take-aways from the book, it is well worth the read! 

A big thanks to those of you who graciously subjected yourselves to an interview these past three weeks…you know who you are. I can honestly say, without folks like you, my learning  journey would be crippled! As would the final outcome of the research. And thanks to the many interviewees still to participate.

And so the new research journey begins…blog #93

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”

– Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet (1887)

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here! I officially started my extended study leave, great thanks to Okanagan College for the privilege of such an opportunity.

When I began planning for this back in February 2019, never could I have imagined how life would have changed by the time I flipped the calendar to August 2021. Every area of our lives have been touched with both joy and sorrow. We’ve laughed, cried, shaken our fists, embraced, accepted, and are learning how, on a daily basis, to not let circumstances define us. The ‘us’ is my husband of 43 years, and myself; together we are embarking on an exciting journey, unsure of what all will unfold, but ready to embrace the unknown.

As many of you may know, I am a business professor, and a ‘remote work’ consultant. I have appreciated the privilege of adapting a form of ‘work from anywhere’ for most of my professional life. In my early career, I was fully supported by my employers to work either in the office, or from home, whatever was needed. I have enjoyed having a co-located office, as well as a home office, teaching amazing students in face to face classroom settings as well as fully on-line, working from amazing coffee shops in North America and Europe, all the while ensuring that the way I work reflects the high work ethic I was raised with. These opportunities have been the impetus for my focus on exploring the people aspects of working from anywhere.

Now, as I embark on a new research project, I am excited to learn, relearn, have my opinions challenged, and in return contribute my findings to the many individuals, teams, and organizations who are facing challenging and exciting transitions in how and where work gets done. The first research, conducted with my son Nathan Sawatzky, focused on Competencies for Success in Remote Workers. This led into a research project with Ian MacRea as we looked at Personality Traits of Remote Workers. Looking back on this research released over the past couple years, never would we have predicted the importance and impact of our learning for a time of such disruption. 

What’s next? Where is my current focus? The overarching question I am seeking to find answers to is “What does it takes to lead successfully in a work from anywhere context, ensuring proximity equity for all”. I want to hear stories from both leaders and members regarding how they have experienced proximity equity, especially when discussing access to resources (support, training, data, promotions, collaboration…). And, as we all know, there is also much to be learned from those who fall victim to proximity bias, so those stories are also of great value. Many are still in the early stages of these new working contexts, while others have been living in a more hybrid or work-from-anywhere format for some time…the common denominator is people. As leaders we need to talk responsibility for self-leadership, while ensuring our members are supported and equipped to be the very best of who they can be.

So, vaccinations received, accommodations reserved, flights booked, my husband’s visa application submitted (I get to travel on my EU Passport as an Irish National!), all the biggies taken care of. The plan is to work from our home in Kelowna, BC, Canada from now through the end of October, then hop on a plane for Portugal to saturate ourselves in the Portuguese culture for four months. Next stop Valencia, Spain for another four months. Before heading home at the end of June, we will spend a bit of time with our son and his family in Finland. Of course, this is all dependent on the skies remaining open for travel! Knowing this may be a possibility, plan ‘B’ will still allow my research to continue, all thanks to the opportunity technology provides for working (or researching) from anywhere! 

However, our first choice is to experience first hand what it means to truly work from anywhere, and live in cultures not our own. I love this quote from Interactive Design Foundation (IDF):

“Research can be compared to interacting with the ocean. On the surface, we may see calm beauty or turbulence; however, we can only fully understand the bigger picture once we submerge ourselves and go much deeper. In order to gain a holistic, empathic understanding of [those impacted] and the problem we are trying to solve, we need to question everything, even things that we think we know the answers to.”

I invite you to follow along with, and participate in, our journey. I have a list of books to read, literature to review, podcasts to glean from, and most important, interviews to conduct with the experts…those of you who are living the reality of work from anywhere contexts.   

If you are interested in a conversation please reach out to me, Roberta Sawatzky…I would love to hear your stories!

Time out to take in…blog #92

It’s June. Something about the start of summer that requires one to slow down, create space for down time, and recharge. At least that’s what it means for me.

The past 18 months have been a whirlwind, filled with events and happenings that have pulled every emotion out of me. The full spectrum! I know I’m not alone in this. Taking time to think, to create, to breathe, has been pushed to the back burner.

But, it’s June, and it’s time. I wrote in a past blog about the excitement of my upcoming, one year, Extended Study Leave that officially starts August 1, 2021 (big thanks to Okanagan College for this!). I’ve planned for this, looked forward to it for quite some time, and find it hard to believe that it is only two months away! It will be a time filled with learning for me: reading, writing, interviewing, reflecting…repeat. By the way, the focus of the research and inquiry will be on Proximity Equity in Hybrid Teams. I’ll be looking to chat with both leaders of hybrid teams and team members to hear their stories. If you are interested in a virtual chat, please reach out to me at rsawatzky@okanagan.bc.ca. COVID willing, November will find us heading to Portugal and Spain to fully experience working from anywhere while continuing the research.

So that’s August, this is June. Part of me wants to jump in with two feet, to just get started with the research. But a greater part of me gently suggests that it’s time to wait, to pause, to let transitions happen, to watch, to take in, to let my mind wander, to allow it to create, to write, to reflect. For once I have decided to listen to that quiet voice, to prepare, and be ready to hit the ground running!

This past semester, I had Rowena Hennigan (virtually)speak to my third year business students…her topic was psychological health. Rowena, message heard and received! 

So what does this look like? Hmmm, well, it for sure includes making time to read for pleasure, for walking, biking, spending time with family and friends, taking in the beauty of this amazing part of the world we live in, and perhaps even sitting doing nothing!  It also means taking a bit of a social media break (talk about FOMO!), but I’ll be there, on the sidelines, just taking a peak at what my colleagues across the globe are learning and experiencing…but more as a spectator than a participant.

So for now, at least until August, I’m signing off. But I’ll be back, full of excitement and energy to start this next leg of the adventure. 

Have a fantastic summer…and be kind to ‘you’!

Networking – I really dislike that word…Blog #90

I stood on the outside balcony of the beautiful lake front hotel. The sun shone, the lake sparkled, the music volume was at just the right level for conversation, and every one of the 400 people in attendance were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Actually, make that 399 were enjoying themselves. I was not. My heart was racing, my palms sweaty, and I wanted to bolt!

Just the day before, I and four other new business start-ups had agreed to go to the highest attended annual networking event in Kelowna. You know, safety in numbers. None of us were comfortable ‘selling ourselves’ to a crowd of strangers, somehow letting them know that we ‘had what they needed’. So, we set a plan in place. We would pair up, approach the attendees, smile, have our new, shiny business cards ready to hand out, collect all the cards we could. We were prepared, what could possibly go wrong? 

So, there I was, right on time, standing on the balcony like the Queen of England waiting to greet her subjects. That’s when my cell vibrated with notification of a text. 

I’m so sorry, but I can’t make it tonight, something’s come up.”

“That’s ok”, I replied “these things happen.”

No problem, three of us can still work the plan, just breath Roberta. Then another vibration. 

I hate to do this, but I just don’t feel good. I need to bail tonight. You understand, don’t you?”

Two down, still two standing. We got this! Breaths are coming almost in spasms. And then the unthinkable happened. You guessed it. “My boyfriend just came into town for a surprize visit! I can’t leave after he drove all this way. Sorry. I knew you’d understand.”

I would understand? Are you kidding me?! I could have come up with a million valid reasons (ok, maybe two or three) for not making the event, but I didn’t. I was there. I was alone. The air had been sucked out of my bubble!

Let me just insert here, that I am truly an introvert. When I teach, or present at a conference, you would never know it, but I am. If you are familiar with Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m an INTP. (I still have a difficult time getting my head around this tool). That ‘I’ stands for Introverted. If I’m representing something, or someone else, or if I have a task to do at a function, I’m ok. But put me in a situation with strangers and charge me with drawing attention to myself, I’m not a happy camper. I’m in panic mode. 

What happened next made me believe in angels. As my eyes scanned the crowd they spotted a lady I had only recently met. Our eyes met; she recognized me! And, she waved for me to come and join her! Thank you God! When I reached the spot where she stood waiting, I quickly blurted out my dilemma, hardly stopping to breathe, and asked if I could hang out with her. Remember, I had only recently met this lady, so I’m sure my emotional eruption must have taken her aback. Her next words were music to my ears. “Of course you can. Let me introduce you to some people and show you how it’s done.” The birds once more started to sing.

For the next two hours, I witnessed what I could only describe as ‘the networking dance’. This lady moved fluidly from conversation to conversation, introducing me, asking questions of each person, smiling, connecting, inquiring of life happenings in their lives, all the while holding on to a glass of wine, passing out business cards, and simply floating. The breath I was holding for so long had slowly released, liked at the end of Seasons of Life during a performance of Rent; I was in awe! 

My heart was no longer racing, I could shake someone’s hand without fear of leaving a sweaty impression. I heard myself laughing and asking questions; I was actually having fun. 

A discovery, a lightbulb moment, had just occurred worth every bit of anxiety previously experienced. Networking is not about telling people about me. It’s about being curious, listening, paying attention to what others say, hearing their struggles, their joys, their pain. And, if appropriate, offering myself, my product or service to help meet their needs. That’s it. 

Being an introvert is actually a strength when in these situations. We don’t need to be the centre of attention or the life of the party. Rather, we get to facilitate others so they can be the centre of attention and the life of the party. 

As I traveled to different countries (and yes, I do look forward to doing again), present at conferences, meet new people, I still feel like the ocean undertow is threatening to suck me in. Having a co-worker (or hubby) with me is a lifeline, but not always possible. However, when I remember to take my eyes off me, and focus on others, I have been so gratified to meet many awesome people who are more than willing to tell me their stories and share their experiences. You see, networking doesn’t just happen in huge crowds, but also between strangers standing on the train platform outside of Glasgow, or waiting for a bus in Amsterdam, or having coffee in a local café in Florence. Networking is about connections (I actually don’t even like the term ‘networking’, so it is now nixed from my vocabulary!) Connections bring people together. Connections are like a beautiful symphony performed when individual musicians join their skills and passions together to make harmonious music. Making new connections is worth the discomfort of sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and even fear of rejection. 

I can’t wait to build more connections as I journey to places unknown. 

This was my view from the Delta Grand Hotel in Kelowna, BC

Leading and learning, why?…blog #87

Odeon in Ephesus ~ the Bouleuterion

I really love learning, but these days learning can feel more like a chore. Growing up, if you were to ask my teachers or parents, they would not say a love of learning would define my school days, unless you were talking about anything to do with music. In high school, I had no problem getting to school by 7am, three mornings a week for choir and band practice, and I was thrilled to go to school on the days I had music classes in my timetable, but on the other days, I can’t honestly say I was a model student.

While I loved music lessons at school, private piano lessons were a completely different thing. To be fair, my lesson followed my older, focused and very musical, brother. We both faithfully practiced everyday (thanks to Mum’s perseverance), but somehow Ian kept getting better; me, not so much. I still remember the horror of walking into a very sterile, institutional building in Belfast to take a Royal Conservatory piano exam. Finally, the inevitable happened, our very stern piano teacher, had a talk with my parents. It went something like this, “You are wasting your money having Roberta in piano lessons; she doesn’t have a musical bone in her body.” That was my last piano lesson. I was ecstatic! I now had an extra three hours every week to do what I loved – ride my bike, roller skate, and hang out with my friends. I wonder what Miss Thompson would say if she knew I went on to achieve first chair as clarinetist in our high school orchestra, and travel for two years in a prestigious singing group?  

So what made the difference in my musical education? I think two things were at play: a desire to learn about the subject matter, and the learning environment. I really did not want to take piano lessons. I did, however, want to play the clarinet and sing. I love learning with others, and I have always loved creating music with others; I never do well in an ‘stick’ vs ‘carrot’ learning environment. It not only breaks my spirit, but it awakens my stubborn Irish ire (I know, not very mature).

Why is this concern over learning such a pervasive thought in mind? What really is irritating me? If I love learning so much, why am I feeling overwhelmed and fatigued with learning these days? I found this statement when reading a blog by Dean Yeong

The abundance of information and the ease to access it quickly becomes a severe problem for people who are curious and want to learn almost anything. They’re constantly consuming information to the point that they don’t have the attention left to take action and to produce.

I wholly resonate with Yeong’s sentiment. This ‘problem’ becomes especially challenging when such a fire hydrant of information comes at us from every direction; this is one of the advantages, and disadvantages, of ready access to the totality of human knowledge at our finger tips. Add to this abundance is the reality that for some folks, this past year has left us with more time to follow our curiosity. As leaders, we are coached with leadership wisdom such as:

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”  Peter Drucker

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy

Such appeals can unintentionally create added pressure on struggling leaders in today’s complex working environment! Don’t get me wrong, I am committed to lifelong learning, I just need to intentionally filter both the content and the source of information. I need to focus on what I can and should research in order to make a difference in the lives of those I am humbled to influence; to focus on what I deeply care about. I need to learn, to dialogue and debate with others who will challenge my thinking and shed light on the dark corners I am overlooking.

The good news is that I have such amazing people in my life: family, friends, and co-workers. For this I am both blessed and eternally grateful. However, it’s up to me to set up the filters necessary to not drown in the abundance of information, and make time to probe, ponder and assimilate what it is that will make a difference in what I most care about. It’s the richness of the dialogue and debate that makes such a discipline all the more precious.

Here’s another great quote on leading and learning. This one stirs in me a desire to jump up and shout ‘YES!” As leaders, this is why we learn!

“Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning.” ― Peter M. Senge

References:

Yeong, Dean. (2018). Knowledge Prioritization; How to prioritize what you should learn first https://www.deanyeong.com/article/how-to-prioritize-what-to-learn

Interaction Design Foundation. (2020). Information overload, why it matters and how to combat it.

https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/information-overload-why-it-matters-and-how-to-combat-it

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