Category: Reflections

I love learning…blog #96

I am thoroughly enjoying my extended study leave! It is such a privilege to engage in un-rushed, dedicated time to read inspiring writings that both challenge and stretch my thinking. In the busyness of a scheduled life, we don’t often have the discretionary time to hit ‘pause’ and actually ponder what has just been read. 

Here’s one such tidbit I came across while enjoying undisrupted reading time on a 4½ hour flight home from Toronto. Stanford Business Books share the following story: Matt Fineout, a Project Architect, worked for two days trying to reduce the square footage in a building he was designing. At the end of the time he had created an acceptable reduced plan…then he ripped up the paper containing the layout. His explanation was, “We proved we can do it, now we want to think about how we want to do it.” (Managing by Design) Just think how innovative we can be once we realize we can survive in this new way of working; how exciting when we get to the place of not just surviving, but actually thriving!  

I’m two and a half months into my research leave. So far I have engaged in the following: twenty four one-on-one interviews, five books read*, three Design Thinking courses completed through IDF, and several academic papers consumed. Perhaps it’s time to hit pause and share some initial insights gleaned as well as questions I continue to ponder.

  • While a focus on people is important, it is also vital to create processes. How might we encourage leaders to create these processes in collaboration with their team members?
  • Many managers are tired and starting to experience burn-out. They have the same responsibilities as before, but now have the added need to build into their people who are both remote and co-located. As many organizations move forward with hybrid formats, how might utilizing a more agile approach with sprints be more effective?
  • One size does not fit all. We can’t rigidly state that remote is the right option…each organization needs to decide the best configuration for their unique culture and context.
  • Freedom comes with responsibility, autonomy comes with accountability. When someone chooses to work for an organization and be part of a team, it is imperative to realize that freedom and autonomy are contingent on being responsible and accountable to the team…no matter where their work gets done. How might we facilitate a conversation among team members and leaders to clarify what this looks like?
  • Many organizations are giving managers responsibility to figure out the best way to make hybrid work for their unique teams. How might design thinking serve them well in creating processes, and open the door to more innovative practices? 
  • There seems to be a disconnect between upper level leadership and the workload of middle managers. How might we more effectively bridge that gap and help those leaders learn how to support their managers.
  • More focus needs to be paid to biases. Many leaders are blind to such ways of thinking due to years of mental models that ignore these tendencies. How might we support leaders as they work through unintentional biases?

So this is what I’m hearing, learning, and pondering so far. I don’t have answers, but believe that creating the right questions will help an emerging hybrid or work-from-anywhere workforce find their way to incredibly innovative ways of working. Perhaps the stories of those I interview, paired with relevant readings will provide further insight.

Books read so far:

Say Yes to the Mess   Think Again    The Practice of Adaptive Leadership   Where is my Office    Dark Social 

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.

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

Leadership growth in the liminal space…blog #88

In a previous blog I wrote about liminal space from the perspective of a professor. Recently, I have been thinking a great deal about it from the context of leading in this current work-from-home reality. We know the current state of affairs will not be forever, but we don’t know how long it will be until we can settle into a more stable way of life and living. Thus, the liminal space in which we are living. The rollout of vaccines has certainly provided a glimmer of hope for the ending of our forced remoteness. Until then…liminal space.

“Liminal space is where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. It’s a transition space.” 

So, how do we take advantage of this period of liminal space, a gifted time where we can rethink what we want life to look like when we are released from the bounds of our four walls? I recently listened to a podcast by Brené Brown where she was interviewing Adam Grant. They discussed how “…rethinking does not have to mean changing your mind; it’s about reflecting and wondering if you should change your mind. It’s about being open to new information.”

For some, the experience of working from home has been a welcome change from the craziness of the 9-5 existance we came to accept. For others it truly has been like a confinement paired with constant negotiations with partners, kids, pets, or house mates for even a tiny bit of space in which to work. Some have already decided that they never want to go back to the office, while others are thinking, “If this is remote work, no thank you!” 

The thing is there is nothing normal about how we are working right now. This isn’t remote-working. While some folks are happy with their working from home arrangement , I don’t think this describes the ideal that would cause many of us to say, “I’m loving this set up, I could do this forever!” Perhaps the majority of us would be happier approaching it like a buffet…”I’d like some of this, some of that, but none of those!” Now that makes more sense to me. 

So how can we take advantage of this rare liminal space? Let me suggest a few questions to think through as you prepare for your upcoming liberation. 

  • What are you really loving about your current working context? 
  • What about this context do you want to preserve–to hold onto–even after restrictions are lifted?
  • What are you really hating about your current, working context?
  • What do you know must change for the sake of your emotional, physical, psychological, or spiritual health? What is simply not sustainable?
  • What have you learned about yourself and how you work? 

No matter which work arrangement you hope to embrace, change is inevitable. We may not be able to control all the elements of change, but we do have control over how we prepare ourselves for what’s ahead. While we are living in this liminal space, why not add value to the time by investing in YOU? Engaging in some, or all, of the suggestions below can start the preparation for emerging from the liminal space with great expectancy and enthusiasm, more prepared and equipped than before we hit lock-down. Self-growth (or self-leadership) may just help you prepare for your desired work arrangement by gaining a deeper understanding of who you are and what you bring to the job.

  1. Learn about and growing your emotional intelligence
  2. Learn about and growing your strengths 
  3. Complete and contemplate via the Daring Leadership Assessment.
  4. Learn about and developing the competencies necessary for success as a remote/hybrid worker. 
  5. Identify some desired growth areas and create SMART goals to work towards achieving them. 

Let me finish with the quote I started this blog with. “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” We will get through this pandemic; how great would it be if we emerge with great expectancy for the incredible that’s waiting to be known?

Photo by Jeb Buchman on Unsplash

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

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