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

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

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.

 

 

What’s in a name?…blog #76

What is in a name?

In short…everything! I am often asked why I have named my business SAM Consulting…who is Sam? Where did the name come from? Let me assure you, it wasn’t inspired by the main character in Dr. Seuss’s ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, however, it was inspired by people who are very important to me.

The full name of my business is Sawatzky and Associates Management Consulting, thus SAM. But please, let me pull some things from the name that will give you a glimpse into what I value, and what informs how I conduct my business.

Annalong Harbour

My grandfather on my Dad’s side was named Sam Campbell. I remember going to visit this set of grandparents in Annalong, a little fishing village in Northern Ireland. Besides the exploring we did around the harbour, watching the fish being dumped off the boats then sorted and cleaned in the fishery (now that’s a smell you never forget!), climbing the rocks, and watching my brother and cousin jump onto the fishing vessels, my fondest memory was sitting on my grandpa’s lap listening to him tell stories and quote poems in his soothing Irish brogue. And of course, there was always a fire in the grate to ward off the chill of the Irish weather. My Grandpa Campbell was not a man of great physical stature, but was a giant when it came to his character. He earned respect in all areas of his life from those who were fortunate to be in his presence, and by reputation. He was a fair man, full of integrity, caring, empathetic, and loved his family dearly.

These values are ones I have committed to emulate in my business dealings (and all of life). Sam is a simple name, yet it holds such awe and inspiration for me.

Samuel Sawatzky

Further to the name ‘SAM’— my business officially launched in 2009, the same month I was taking my final course earning a Masters of Leadership & Management…and the same month our fourth grandson was born. His name? Samuel. He has a lot to live up to with that name, but already we see how his character has developed in a way that his great, great grandfather would be proud.

Some businesses that are operated by sole proprietorships, use ‘associates’ in their name to perhaps give the impression of a more robust offering. While I get the intent, this was not the reasoning behind adding the term to my business name. Let me explain.

I am a firm believer in collaboration. Working together with others brings a diversity of thought that can be lacking when working as a sole proprietor. Collaborating with others also adds a greater level of expertise that, at the very least, brings value to the client. Since the inception of SAM in 2009, I have had the privilege of collaborating with others, of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, of benefitting from the minds of individuals who challenge me to think outside the box, and listen well.

There is a Gaelic word that I have come to greatly appreciate– Anam Cara. I was introduced to the concept through the writings of John O’Donahue  an Irish Priest, writer, and poet. It simply means ‘soul friend’, and brings a further meaning of being a ‘thinking partner’. If SAM had a tag line, it would somehow express the desire I have to be an Anam Cara to those I am privileged to come along side and support, to be a thinking partner as they work through new endeavours, challenges, or simply grow in their professional lives.

The name of my blog is Probe and Ponder; to me, life is full of wonders that often cause me to stop, ask ‘why?’, then probe and ponder some more. I love the opportunity SAM provides to come alongside teams and individuals, collaborating with others as together we Probe and Ponder the many opportunities life throws our way.

For the sake of simplicity going forward, I will be posting this Probe and Ponder blog on my updated website (stay tuned for that) www.samisremote.com.

And yes, the name is once again significant; I am a remote work advocate, researcher, consultant, and coach. I am also a Business Professor at Okanagan School of Business, specializing in HR and Management, designing and teaching on-line courses.

That, in a nutshell is who I am…SAM I am.

Annalong, N. Ireland

Hibernation is over…blot #69

I don’t do hibernation well, but that’s what I feel I have been doing since December 20 when I was gifted with a new knee. This ‘Christmas present’ came with unexpected packaging. 

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is an old Yiddish adage meaning, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”

Michael Chabon

I totally get that. Despite my plans and intentions for medical recover, the past ten weeks have been nothing short of life controlled by…not me!

Imagine ten weeks of reading for the joy of reading, journaling everyday to capture the healing process, time to catch up on Netflix series a hair back kind of schedule doesn’t afford, afternoon snoozes, and crafting well researched blogs that would encourage and challenge remote workers in their exciting contexts. Imagine was exactly what I did; none of this actually materialized.

I think when the anesthetic was administered it not only knocked me out for the ninety minute surgery, it also contained a time release drug that lasted for at least eight weeks! Seriously, I’d pick up a book and not remember the story line from one page to the next. Game of Thrones? I managed five minutes of viewing before being overwhelmed, and I had previously read the first book!

Many of you share my love for roller coasters — crawling up an impossible vertical 250+ feet at a snail’s pace, then plummeting down to the bowels of the earth, only to hit a turn that just about propels it’s screaming riders into outer space. Fun on a roller coaster, not so much when this describes your emotional state. Name an emotion and I’m pretty sure I lived it. Rational? Logical? Not necessarily, but very real and very exhausting. For example, one particular interaction with another knee replacement patient left me feeling totally shamed when she commented that I wasn’t as far along the healing process as she. I’m an adult, but the power of peer pressure hit me like a ton of bricks. 

But today…ten weeks later, I actually feel that one day in the future I will once again engage in most of the activities I was missing out on, pain free, and ready to take on the world.

At one point in the post surgery days, I signed up for an on-line writing course tutored by my friend Karen Barnstable. This one thing I could do; there was no pressure to complete within a given time frame. I could write, maybe day dream for a time, or reminisce on life experiences that led me to this point in life. Each lesson submitted resulted in thoughtful, constructive feedback that informed my next attempt at telling more of my story. And the writing continues.

You see, I’m working on a memoir that focuses on my life and learning in the realm of remote work. It may take a while to complete because I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about, and living this phenomenal approach to work. The discipline of writing is also helping me to focus on my next research topic that builds on what we’ve previously completed (still needs work to clearly articulating). 

My understanding is that the path to full recover is not a short one; however, the good news is that day by day, I’m getting there. And the great news is that the roller coaster has slowed down to more resemble a bike ride through the dunes connecting Zandvoort and The Hague; hills that still make you breathe hard, but reward you with moments allowing you to catch your breath and appreciate the journey.    

Reflections from NomadCity2019…#68

Speaker Lineup

It’s been almost 2 weeks since NomadCity2019 ended and I continue to be asked by friends and colleagues about my main learnings and take always. My honest answer has been that I haven’t had the time to sit and reflect on the amazing event it was. I continue to read the reflections of others, and want to add an emphatic ‘YES!’ to all they have shared. Well, a forced slow down has finally provided the think space I need (2 fractured ribs!)

Imagine being in a auditorium with 250 plus people, representing 15 some countries, sharing a common passion to make a difference in how work gets done. Gender, age, culture, religion, sexual orientation…nothing mattered to anyone except coming together with one voice to advocate for working remote (to whatever degree possible). I appreciated each and every question I was asked, the answers offered to me for each question I asked, and the unique views found in the welcome of such diversity. How can learning not be the outcome?

  1. My first takeaway is about the people. I have attended, and organized, many conferences throughout my career, and would say that the attendees at Nomad City were among the most welcoming, humble, focused, and passionate individuals I have encountered. There is something special about being in the same physical space with people you have connected with in a virtual context. I gained a greater understanding of the importance of scheduling opportunities for individuals and teams to have face to face (physical) time together. I get that this isn’t always possible, but if organizations would consider dedicating some of the money saved by having people work remotely, and use the savings to create such gatherings, the benefits would far outweigh the cost. Events like NomadCity also provide a place where teams can meet, hangout, build relationships, learn together, and strategize on how they can be more effective in the way they work together. 
  2. The second takeaway was a call to move the focus away from the benefit of remote work for the individual and organization, towards the incredible contribution remote work can, and does, have on economic development. I was privileged to moderate a panel organized by Nacho Rodriguez, founder of Nomad City, that focused on how remote work has made a difference in communities around the globe, and how it is making an impact already in Los Palmas. This call also right sizes the reality of remote work. The ‘working on the beach’ vision created by some folks, simply is not the actuality of what this working context looks like. Sure, you can work from the most amazing places, but having a productive and appropriate work environment is both necessary, and at times challenging to find. The concern with embracing remote workers in your organization is not ‘will they stay focused on work’, but ‘will they shut off from work’. These are hard working, dedicated people who truly want to make a difference in whatever community they find themselves working.
  3. Another takeaway was the amount of collaboration that happens in this community. Collaboration, not competition, was the goal of the individuals and organizations represented at the event. It was great to see how organizations like Basecamp, a fully distributed company, want to learn how they can continue to provide an effective platform for remote workers. WherebyBuffer, and Hello Monday…all platforms who are growing and adapting to meet the needs of their clients. Workplaceless, another fully distributed company develops and supports training courses to help remote workers and organizations succeed in this space. Amazing individuals, (way too many to mention…check out the speaker line up on the NomadCity2019 link above), who bring their own unique strengths to the movement for the purpose of support and advocacy.  The list goes on. The desires expressed regarding helping collocated organizations ascertain how they can make remote or flexible work available for their employees was one of support, not pressure; the common theme was to discover the smartest way, the most effective way to get work done, honoring both employees, employers, and communities. The final day of the event was an ‘unconference’ or ‘Open space’  event for 60 invited remote work advocates. Working together, we identified burning issues which then became the topics of discussion for the day; these participant led conversations truly revealed the challenges and opportunities faced by this community…the discussions were inspiring, challenging, and stimulating. Exciting!
  4. My final takeaway was the importance of research in this area that provides support for individuals, organizations, and communities regarding remote work. I especially love this because it calls for academia and industry to work together, to collaborate, to need each other. When this happens, we influence not only the current work force, but all those coming behind. 

Wrapping up…remote work is not a fad, it’s not some passing trend, it’s the face of work…today. It may look different for each situation, but the bottom line is that we need to consider how we can best build environments where people are allowed the freedom to work in contexts where they are most productive—always balancing freedom and flexibility with responsibility. Where organizations, if appropriate, provide opportunity for their employees to work from anywhere, and trust them to do the work assigned without micro managing, all the while supporting a life balance, and where communities are built and restored to a level of economic health. The remote work movement, and each of the participants at NomadCity2019 all offered a loud ‘amen’ to this collaborative goal. I am honoured, and humbled, to part of this amazing community! See you all at NomadCity2020.

What’s your remote work story? …#67

Las Canteras Beach, Las Palmas de Gan Canaria

I recently had the honour of being part of NomadCity2019 in Gran Canaria…amazing! In preparation for the event, the presenters were asked to respond to several questions by way of introduction. I found that exercise to be an amazing reflection.

So, in that context, what is my remote working story?

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I have been working remote in some form for the past 29 years! I was a stay-at-home mom until our kids went to kindergarten. At that time I was approached to take on a leadership role in a non-profit organization. Before accepting, I laid out some conditions: if my kids were sick, I could work from home; if there was a school field trip, I could attend and complete my work in the off hours; and I would be able to adjust my work hours to facilitate volunteering in the school. I also assured them that in no way would the quality of my work or leadership of my teams suffer. To my surprise and delight, they agreed! That set the precedence going forward, and never once was I denied the privilege of such a flexible schedule. Unknowingly, this lay the foundation for both our children to desire non-traditional work options. Our son is a digital nomad, in his fourth year of travelling and working in Europe (with his wife and 6 kids), and our daughter has just transitioned to a remote leadership role in a collocated organization.

Topic: ‘Identify, screening for, and nurturing critical self-management skills’

In 2008, Canada suffered a recession and jobs were being cut. I led a team that was responsible for developing and sourcing leadership training resources. Because we were not generating revenue it was the ‘logical’ area for jobs to be cut…my job was one of those. At that time I made the decision to start my own consulting business working from home. Fast forward to today and I still have my consulting business focusing on all things remote, but I am also a business professor at the Okanagan College School of Business (British Columbia, Canada) specializing in Human Resources and Management. This academic involvement has provided the access and funding to become involved with research; my area of interest and passion is of course remote work. As well, I have been afforded the freedom to travel internationally to both research and speak about the research. I’ve also been privileged to make work happen where it will be most effectively and efficiently done. One of my current roles is orienting and supporting new faculty…term and full time. Many of these individuals are not on campus on a regular basis, some located on campus’ in other locations. A remote work perspective has opened the door for virtual meetings and collaborations, saving the professors valuable personal and travel time, while still being connected with their colleagues.

Now, I love a challenge! That means sometimes saying ‘yes’ to things before thinking through my current capacity. As a result I have suffered burnout and been forced to pull out of activities, and even commitments, that drain me. This becomes magnified when straddling the ‘virtual’ world and ‘physical’ world. I need to honour my employer, as well as the clients I work with through SAM. The upside of such a challenge is that it serves as a reminder to focus on my strengths, and to pour my energies into areas where I can have the greatest impact.

Yup, we have a wee bit of a shoe fetish!

Support, whether working in a fully collocated business, as a digital nomad, or somewhere in between, is vital! I have an amazing group of women with whom I meet on a regular basis. They serve as my sounding board, accountability partners, comic relief, and general support. We all have different work focuses (researcher, educator, dentistry, writer, business developer, executive coaching, mental health…), some work remotely, some collocated, and some hybrid like myself. Great support, and of course getting to the ocean as much as possible helps to put everything back in perspective (I grew up in Ireland right on the Irish Sea, so the ocean is my happy place). I also have an incredibly supportive family (specifically my husband, kids, niece) who serve as the best support a person could ask for…and have no problem speaking truth to me when the need arises.

I started off asking ‘what is my remote story’, well, that’s pretty much it. I have learned that stepping up and asking for a flexible schedule, or to work remote really isn’t such a scary thing, and it’s not an all-or-nothing equation. Some people work 100% remotely, and some 1 day a month…do what works for you, your organization, and your community. While there are challenges, none of them are insurmountable if you reach out and ask for help. Remote work can have such a powerful impact not only for individuals and organizations, but also the whole area of economic development.

 

My advise to others starting a similar journey? Stay open minded…embrace opportunities that come your way, and it’s never too late to start a new rendition of your career. Always remember that we were created to live in community, be that face to face or virtual…so make sure you stay connected!

So, what’s your remote working story? Where is your journey taking you?

 

Is information overload blocking your creativity? … #66

We have all heard the term ‘writers block’ tossed around by those who identify themselves as writers; those talented individuals who depend on the free flow of words to give voice to the fantastic worlds floating around in their heads. I don’t claim to be a member of that class. I also have great appreciation for those types of writers who seem to have endless thoughts, ideas, and advise to share on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. If any of you happen to stumble across this blog, I’m in awe of your discipline and creativity and would love a sip of your secret sauce, and I’m amazed that writer’s block doesn’t hit you far more frequently!

But here’s the deal…even though I have a very full, satisfying, challenging, inspiring, rewarding, and fulfilling life, I totally get mental stagnation when it comes to narrowing down, or sifting through the swirl in my brain, and focusing on a theme, or topic, to articulate in words that will hopefully have some impact on a reader. All my life I have been a learner, and that has not changed, nor will it ever. I’m a business professor, researcher, remote worker, consultant/coach, international speaker (now that’s a privilege!), wife, mom, sister, grandmother, friend…I am truly blessed. Needless to say each of those ‘roles’ provide an endless array of learning and reward. Every conversation has potential to teach, inspire, drain, encourage, challenge, or even bore me.

So with all that input, why do I have such a difficult time putting words to paper? Certainly not because of lack of content! Perhaps the simple fact that there is so much input, or ‘information overload’, nothing is fully landing. It’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and filling your plate with everything in sight because it all looks amazing, tastes great, and is available–right under my nose.

Even as I write this, my inner voice is sending me sarcastic messages…like ‘seriously, you don’t see an issue here? You know the answer, you know better!’ And that little voice is right.

The very things, the tools, that make constant contact possible, information access more readily available than ever before, communication between the person next to me or 3000 miles away as easy as breathing, are both the cause and the cure.

I’m currently preparing a workshop on self-management. Ironic, right? One of the questions I am asking is ‘what do we need to manage?’ Perhaps time, stress, commitments, multiple deadlines, or life balance. Yes to all of these, and more. For me, I do a great job of managing my commitments; I am organized and can discipline my time well. But as I write this I am again reminded that what I don’t manage well is time to reflect, to slow down and relish the moment I am in, to ponder those special moments that happen each day. To call up the smile on the face of a grandchild or grandniece you’ve had a chance to cuddle with, to share in the joy of good news offered, or to simply walk through the falling leaves of autumn. Check out this video by Manoush Zomorodi called Bored and Brilliant And…finally realize that when your body goes on autopilot, your brain gets busy forming new neural connections that connect ideas and solve problems.

What about you? What is cluttering your mind and keeping you from finding clarity around new opportunities; current and future? What can you do about it? What are you willing to do about it?