Category: work from anywhere

Culture = habits? … Blog #101

Sunday evening, church services were done, and the sitting room was all set up ready for company. Mom had been preparing for our visitors over the past couple of days, and the spread she presented was nothing short of front-cover-cookbook ready. The sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles, the scones were the perfect three bite size, ready to be lathered with Devonshire cream and homemade strawberry jam. Mince tarts, chocolate fudge shortbread, ‘plain’ shortbread, and Victoria Sponge cake were all part of the fare, served on a triple layer cake plate. Now, with the fireplace blazing, the room provided a warm and welcoming atmosphere for some good Irish craic with friends.  

If you think Mom put on this spread for a special occasion, you’d be greatly mistaken; this was a normal, regular, and most enjoyable cultural entertaining norm for a family in Northern Ireland, right up to when we immigrated to Canada in 1970. People would feel free to drop in anytime, knowing the kettle was boiled and ready to ‘wet the tea’ and let it ‘draw’ for the appropriate amount of time. As well, the pantry always had a tea treat at the ready for those welcomed guests who would simply drop in for an unannounced visit.

This was our ‘habit’ each Sunday evening. Similar times were enjoyed at my grandparents home in Annalong, Ireland. I have fond memories of sitting around the fire listening to my granda, with his gentle Irish brogue, recite stories and poems from years gone by, while granny cooked up her delicious tomato soup in the tiniest kitchen possible (I’ve no idea how they raised six boys in that tiny home!).

When our family immigrated to Canada, we expected those habits of culture to continue for us. Dad and mom expected neighbours to drop by anytime for a visit, they expected Sunday evenings after church to be times of visiting with new friends. Sure, my parents still invited people over, and guests were delighted by the table spread before them (albeit, with a greatly reduced salary the fare was more simple, though every bit as delicious), but such visits only happened when intentionally planned for. No one dropped by for a visit and a cup of tea. Mom waited, but no knocks ever sounded on the front door. It didn’t take long before her confidence started to crack; did people not like her? Was she an inadequate hostess? Would she ever have close friends again? It was a devastating turn of events for this accomplished homemaker who freely expressed her love and appreciation for others through hospitality.

Culture was not a topic of conversation back then. People were people. We didn’t encounter folks from other countries on our small island (the cultural landscape of Ireland has certainly changed over the years…a lovely thing to see). In our new home called Canada, we knew things were different, but had no words to describe it, only expressions of sadness, hurt, and longing for what had been.

Eventually, as a result of a heart attack, my dad met an Irish doctor who opened our eyes to the ‘Canadian way’. Dr. Mark quickly became a family friend, and provided our first lessons on cultural training. Who would have thought it would be considered an imposition to drop in for a visit? As time passed we would soon discover not only the differences in our cultures, but also in our common words of expression. Apparently it wasn’t a good idea for a student to use the term ‘stupid ass’ in class. Nor was it a compliment to tell someone their home was homely. (We learned that ‘homey’ was the complementary word we were after.) Another cultural practice, or habit, was drinking tea. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with tea…it is still a pleasure to be enjoyed by young and old alike, no matter where they call home. 

However, our habit was to have tea first thing in the morning, mid-morning, before going to the market, when we came home from the market, with lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and of course supper (the snack we had just before bed). Not until my then boyfriend (now husband) came into the family did we realize this was not the norm. 

Culture is a beautiful thing, but even some cultural practices, or habits, can be a barrier to fully enjoying the many wonders of life and living. Let me share this example. As a young woman I was suffering with constant headaches. I saw one specialist after another, and none of their brilliant minds could figure out the problem. Until one. This doctor was an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), but most significant was his heritage: he was British. In our first consultation, he inquired about my tea drinking habits. When I recounted a normal day, we added up how many cups of tea I was actually consuming…more than ten cups a day, well beyond the recommended daily allowance of caffeine! His prescription was for me to stop drinking tea for a period of time. I did, missed the tea desperately, but did not miss the headaches that magically disappeared at the same time I cut out my tea drinking rituals. 

Our culture, our habits, were so ingrained in who we were, we had no idea others would not share the same. Growing up, I had no exposure to other cultures, our family travels were mostly to the South of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and just before immigrating we visited Ibiza and Canada. There is a great difference between visiting a place and residing in a place. Marriam Webster offers this as a definition of reside…’to be present as an element or quality.’ How long does it take to move from simply living to residing in a location? I don’t know…but I certainly hope that being in a place for four months (as we are in Portugal and then Spain) will afford us some of the cultural insights that are unique to these areas.

The idea of culture being habits, has created a bit of a mind shift for me over the course of my current research.  Organization culture or team culture is a topic of great interest in these changing times. We read articles and books about adapting to culture, learning culture, creating a culture, or embracing culture, among other topics, but the challenge seems to be most apparent when we start looking at changing culture.

“Culture will not change by propagating different values. Culture can only change by changing habits and behaviours. These in turn will change values, plans, procedures, and norms and finally the ‘stories we tell ourselves about ourselves’ regarding our bottomline assumptions and beliefs.”  

Jutta Ekstein and John Buck, experts in the ‘Agile’ space.

While changing my behaviour around drinking copious amounts of tea may not revolutionize an organization, it was a change in my habits, my culture, that certainly brought healing and growth to how I live my life. And, opened up a whole new world of coffee (decaffeinated of course!)

We continue to live in a time of change, change that often calls for a re-examining of organizational culture. Is it possible that such an examination might reveal some habits that, if changed, may be the first step in shifting a culture towards one that more realistically aligns with the values, plans, procedures and norms aspired to as an organization? 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a catalyst as ‘someone or something that causes a big change’. Is it possible that individuals within organizations could be the catalysts for a necessary cultural shift in an organization by intentionally changing one habit at a time? I wonder what some of those habits might be for your organization?

Praia da Oura Leste, Albufeira, Portugal

Tea cups photo by Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash English tea service photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Unsplash

Living with expectancy, not expectations… Blog #100

Albufeira, Portugal

Part of me feels the pressure to make this blog significant, inspirational, insightful…that’s a lot to live up to. It’s writing also happens to line up with the start of a new year, leaving behind a year filled with such mixed emotions, for everyone.

I do, however, need to start off with the acknowledgement that I am truly blessed. While the past year has had its fill of sadness and loss, it has also had a great deal of joy, laughter, and much to be thankful for. 

I went for a walk on the beach today, as I have done most days since arriving in Albufeira, Portugal. This is a true novelty for me–not the walk, but where I walk. No need for winter jackets, gloves, touques, or boots. No snow. Most days the sun has been shining, but even on cloudy or rainy days, the weather is very mild with temperatures hitting around 16-20 degrees. We even had an amazing day at Monchique where the temperature hit 25 degrees.

Rather than the crunching of glistening snow, my feet sank into the soft sand as I revelled at the majesty of the glistening Atlantic ocean while the sun sparkled on the white caps. Watching the mist clear after storms truly is a sight to behold. Two very different landscapes, snow and sand, in the amazing world we get to inhabit, each with their own beauty and unique features. 

But there’s more, the pièce de résistance…we got to spend Christmas with our son, daughter-in-law and six grandkids. What a treat! This doesn’t happen often since their immigration to Europe. The times we have been able to share Christmas are richly embedded in our memory bank of never to be forgotten moments. Over the past years we have spent two special Christmases with them, one in Ireland and the other in France. Now we get to add Portugal to the list. Papa and Gramma were truly blessed to be their house guests from December 24 through 26. The excitement grew as the days approached. The thoughtful planning of how we would spend our time: the games we’d play, movies we would watch, and last but not least, what yummy food would be prepared and enjoyed. To top it off Grama would be joining in their now Christmas Day tradition of jumping into whatever body of water they happen to be living on. So glad they are spending these few months in Portugal, away from the frigid Baltic Sea of their home in Finland!

Christmas was indeed wonderful! To be honest, the only thing that could have made it better would be to have our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter in Canada join us here in Portugal!

Nativity, created by Gracie

Still, we all entered our family time with great expectancy, and we were not disappointed. On Christmas Eve our six grandkids (now aged 9-17) put on their traditional Christmas play…oh my! Our grandparent hearts just about exploded with joy, pride, love, and amazement at their dedication, creativity, and excellence as they reenact the story of Christmas in song and spoken word. One grandson even saved some of his dad’s beard shavings (he has quite the viking beard), and pasted them on his face to be more ‘authentic’ in his depiction of a shepherd. We were doubled over in laughter when he turned to face the ‘audience’ to reveal this transformation.

Our dip in the water was indeed refreshing. The water wasn’t cold, nor was the air, all adding to the enjoyment of the experience. I was, however, taken by surprise by the strength of the waves and the undertow. My assumption that all the hill walking and stair climbing of Lisbon and Albufeira would rebuild the strength after knee replacement, was certainly overrated. How wonderful to be able to grab the hand of my grandson as I struggled to gain my balance and unstick my feet from the sinking sand as the tide fought against itself.  

Christmas dinner was a culinary treat prepared with love by our daughter-in-law, aided by well trained sous chefs whose creativity and skill goes well beyond putting on Christmas plays. Our daughter-in-law home schools their kids, and honestly, they blow me away with how much they know about, well, everything! I think it’s fair to say that travel is an education in itself, but combining that with intentional learning that embraces the history and geography of where you happen to be living at the time is unequalled. What could be better than learning about the history of Rome while camping just outside the great city, or studying design while living in the Netherlands, or learning about ocean tides while living by vast bodies of water in Ireland, Portugal, or Spain. This is certainly one of the advantages nomad families get to enjoy. Amazing to say the least. 

It’s fascinating being in a culture so different from your own for such a significant and tradition filled season of the year.  Significant from my perspective. I expected a similar celebratory atmosphere in Portugal as we experience in Canada. Or as a child in Ireland. I expected decorations that celebrate both the sacred and secular expressions of the season in homes and shared spaces. There are some, but minimal at best. I expected…I’m not really sure how to describe it, but it seems like one could easily miss the fact that it’s Christmas. In the centre of Old Town there were a few booths selling mulled wine and other Portuguese treats (very delicious); there was even a large tent set up with an ice skating rink! Live Christmas music was played on some evenings, with a small number of people partaking in the offerings, but again, it didn’t feel like a community coming together to celebrate. 

Now, to be fair, we are on the outside looking in. We don’t know what happens in the privacy of people’s homes, or in the churches scattered throughout this area. 

My expectations for this season, in this location, were fully based on my own experiences throughout life. I didn’t have any conversations with locals about their traditions. Except at an Irish pub. It was raining on the evening before Christmas Eve – where else would an Irish born woman go on such a rainy day? The Guiness and warm Irish Whisky was a true tonic for the deep cold that comes with the rain and incredibly high humidity here during those days. The pub owner had planned to celebrate with patrons throughout the season from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, until the announcement of additional restrictions being enforced to curtail the spread of the new COVID variant. The plug was pulled, so to speak, on their ability to facilitate the festivities of locals and tourists alike. 

Once more, how realistic were my expectations? Is what I was observing ‘normal’ for this area, or had people already dialled back their public seasonal celebrations in response to a global pandemic?

So, what does all this have to do with Blog #100, January 2022, inspiration, and insight? I entered this season with expectations, not expectancy. I had preconceived ideas of what ‘it’ would be like. While the expectations of time with our European family were greatly surpassed, I didn’t take time to really research the ‘norms’, nor learn of the Portuguese people’s personal experiences around the season. 

I have also observed the same thinking around the focus of my current research. I entered expecting to learn about how to lead a hybrid team, I entered thinking only of that one aspect of leadership. I’ve learned that those expectations need to be readjusted. Instead, I’m learning to look much deeper as I read, listen, watch, inquire, reflect, and experience life in a context that is so different from my norm. 

I have been in leadership roles most of my life in various industries ranging from not for profit, to government, to for profit, to education. In education we are often asked, ‘What is your philosophy of teaching’. A very important question indeed. However, in all my leadership roles in business, I have never been asked that question. Why do I lead as I do? Why do I make the decisions I do? Why do I value my team members as I do? It’s a big one! I’m learning that we are living in an age where the focus is on ‘how to…’, and not on ‘why?’. Yes, the current environment is new and ever morphing…and it will continue to do so. Many books and articles have now been published on how to lead hybrid teams, or lead in this unknown context, but are we stopping to ask ‘why‘? Are we stopping to consider what belief system of humanity is informing why we are making the decisions we are? What happens when the next ‘pandemic’ comes along, do we come up with another new list of how to’s, or do we pause and consider the ‘why’?

As we enter 2022, let me encourage you to truly hit pause and intentionally make time to think through your leadership foundations. In his book, Virtual Leadership, author Bart Banfield states, “The search for answers always begins with a question.” He further observes that, “Production and performance quickly replace inquiry…”

That being said, what is your philosophy of leadership? How does it play out in how you lead the valuable individuals under your care…no matter if they are hybrid, remote, co-located, or whatever? Who are you as a person, as a leader? What competencies do you bring to the table, and how do your personality traits inform how you lead? 

I am re-learning that only when we are able to answer these questions can we then move on to how we practice our leadership. The ‘how to’s take on more meaning and effectiveness when they are informed by your philosophy and personhood.

This is the direction of my research…stay tuned as I continue, with great expectancy, to learn.

Monchique, Portugal

Settled and learning…Blog #99

We left home exactly 40 days ago. It feels like so much longer than that! It’s not a bad thing, just really surprising. What a roller coaster it has been; however, that’s the past, this is now. We are happily adjusting to life in the Algarve. My husband and I had a chuckle this morning as we finally looked up what the various Portuguese road signs mean…this is definitely not Canada!

After spending a great week with our daughter-in-law and grandkids in Lagoa, we are now settled in our Albufeira apartment. I knew space was important to me, but I didn’t quite realise how much!

Our Albufeira place provides space where I can work from ‘home’, or find a quiet ocean side place to think. I can sit on the balcony and actually see the Atlantic, watch the sky take on beautiful hues as the sun rises and sets, and cozy up at night in front of a real wood fire! This wasn’t the case in Lisbon, rather the need to go and ‘do’ was strong since our place lacked natural light or even a window to look out. I know space has always been important to me, but I didn’t realize quite how much.

Once I got past the inner drive to be doing something research and work related, I finally was able to slow down and enjoy time just thinking and reflecting. It’s been good to review the transcripts from all my interviews and think about what I heard. I’ve also done much more reading, and am taking time to ponder what the authors are saying. So, basically, I think I’m finally slowing down, physically and mentally.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I believe the role of leadership in effective hybrid teams can’t be overstated. To be clear, I am NOT saying that leaders are the focal point, nor are they the most important and vital member of a team, rather, they are the linchpin. Putting aside the archetypical North American style leader of the industrial age, let’s think more of a servant leader, a perspective that has the leader serving the team members, not vice versa. Robert Greenleaf encourages the questions: “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

With this perspective in mind, I’ve picked up Rutger Bregman’s “Humankind: A Hopeful History”. This book was recommended to me in the course of the interviews I’ve recently been conducting. The book investigates the inherent nature of humankind. 

From our previous research we know that having certain personality traits and competencies make a difference in remote or hybrid leadership effectiveness. But what impact or influence does a leader’s view of humanity have?

Let me explain…the book digs into philosophical ideas presented by Hobbes and Rousseau. One proposes that humanity is inherently evil (Hobbes), the other that it’s basically good (Rousseau); potentially kin to McGreggor’s XY Theory of Motivation. Bregman takes you on a roller coaster of agreeing with one point of view, and then the other. (As of this post’s publishing, I’m still feeling the back and forth of this juxtaposition.)  

In light of my current research, it got me thinking…how much does a leader’s view of humanity impact how he/she leads? How does it impact their ability to trust their team members? Or their ability to fully empathize? How likely are they to want to serve their team members? How much of a role does it play in the formation of traits they possess and demonstrate? 

I have reached out to a few psychologist friends for their input, and will share their thoughts in subsequent blogs. For now, I will continue to probe and ponder.

It’s been a week!..Blog #98

I have a renewed appreciation and respect for people who chose to pack up and move to another country for a temporary, or extended time to embrace working from anywhere. Our son has coined the phrase “lifestyle travelling”, meaning, you operate with a different lens, and open yourself up to the sorts of risks one would normally face, but you expand that to the “open road”. That’s what my husband and I are doing, he’s retired and I’m continuing my extended study leave. However, to say our first week had some hurdles would be an understatement. We have faced multiple challenges that make it hard to believe we only arrived 6 days ago! I know someday we’ll look back on this and laugh…but not yet.

Rather than giving you the ‘glass half empty’ story, I’ll focus on the ‘glass half full’ perspective.

  • (Luggage lost for 5 days) Our clothes did arrive, eventually, delivered right to our door with an apology. It felt like Christmas! No need to for a replacement wardrobe. We have been planning this trip for over a year, and had purchased clothing that would layer well and be versatile for the 8 months in Europe. Much as shopping for a new wardrobe may be fun, we were really happy with our own selection. 
  • (Supplies in lost luggage) The pharmacists here in Lisbon are great, helping us choose the best products, closest to what my husband uses at home. Full marks for them! 
  • (Medical support equipment breaking) Baxter, our supplier for all things dialysis, has gone above and beyond for us. Truly a life-line! If you want to study what great customer service looks like across borders, look no further. 
  • (Limited power in the apartment) We are learning to be more intentional in our use of electricity…limit it, or loose it! And we are good with that. 
  • (Cave like lighting) Because of the lack of natural light in our place, we are spending a great deal of time outdoors, exploring Lisbon and finding third spaces to soak in the Vitamin D while getting reading and research done. 
  • Through all of these ’bumps’ our hostess has been over the top amazing! As many great hospitality stars AirBnB gives, she deserve twice as much! And, 
  • (Language) Google Translate has become my constant companion. We had planned on learning some Portuguese and Spanish before leaving Canada, but time got away from us. We are also so impressed with the graciousness of the Portuguese people—they are so hospitable in speaking English, even apologizing for not speaking fluent enough! The most Portuguese we can manage is ‘obrigada’, a word we have been called on to use more times in a week than imaginable. 

Lisbon is an incredible city. Every day we set out in a different direction to see what we can find and are loving the surprizes around each corner. We are staying up close to São Jorge Castle, so every direction we go seems to be up, then down, then up…you get the picture. 

As we’ve been experiencing the unexpected this week, I am reminded of the research Nathan and I published in 2019. The focus was on remote workers competencies for success, our attention being from a work context. Possessing those competencies goes well beyond working. If you choose to be a remote worker working from anywhere, or even working a more hybrid model, I would suggest the competencies identified need to be present to simply do life in such settings. The freedom to work and live anywhere is a gift and privilege to be treasured, but it also comes with responsibility — personal and professional, to make things work. It’s not easy to pack up and go to a different country to pursue such an adventure. We thought through all the possible scenarios of what might happen and were fairly confident we had contingency plans in place. We still were not fully prepared. When you pack up and leave, you are not only leaving your home with all the conveniences, you are leaving your support network—social, family, and medical. To be sure, you can reach out via text, email, or phone if necessary (but you need to first get that new EU sim card purchased), but with 8 hours time difference (for us anyways), they may be fast asleep when you are in the middle of it all. We are fortunate to have our son and family living in Europe, but they are not where we are. We have travelled to Europe several times, but this is not a vacation. I was born in Europe, but I left as a young teen. This is all so different.

Do we regret the decision to take this journey? Not for a moment! Would we recommend it to others? Without a doubt! Is it as easy as we anticipated? Not the first week! But there is so much more adventure to come.

Stay tuned. 

Portugal…here we come! Blog #97

It’s finally time!

As I write this blog, we are on the first leg of our journey from Canada to Portugal…I can hardly believe it has now become a reality. Just a year ago my proposal for an Extended Study Leave was granted, and our plans for the year began to take shape. There have been changes, adaptations, and many workarounds, but we did it; our eight month adventure in Europe has officially begun.

Looking back over the past year, we have had many hurdles to overcome. The original plan was to be in Europe for 12 months, visit at least 5 countries, and basically live life as digital nomads while I researched and interviewed around the topic of leading hybrid teams. You know the saying…the best laid plans… Well the goal remained the same, but the plan changed. A combination of the pandemic and kidney failure (for my husband), greatly tested our resolve to step out on this journey, but here we are! For the next 8 months we will split our time between Portugal and Spain, with a short visit to Finland, and perhaps…? Some plans are still fairly fluid.

Besides the many things I have already learned from my research (I’m setting those learning aside for this blog), I have a whole new appreciation for people choosing to travel and live abroad for an extended time. We watched our son and family pack up their 6 children and make the move to my home country of Ireland, and as a young teenager I immigrated with my parents and siblings from Ireland to Canada. I had, at least I thought I had, a good understanding of the process; was I ever wrong.   

It turns out there is no guidebook for what we are doing. Nor are there people in certain levels of governments who can give you the playbook for travelling to another country for 8 months. Don’t get me wrong, most of the folks I interacted with wanted to be helpful, and even tried, but nothing seemed to be as straightforward as one would think. 

 Born in Ireland, living in Canada, I have both an EU passport and a Canadian one…very handy. Early spring it was brought to our attention that my husband needed to have a visa to travel to Europe because of the length of our stay (I was even told that I needed one as well…hmmm). So we started the application process. Do you know how difficult and frustrating it is to find information on a website from a country that’s not your own, nor shares the same language? After many emails and phone calls, a lovely person at the Portuguese Consulate finally looked at the site and admitted, “Oh yes, that is rather confusing, isn’t it?” You see, there isn’t an option for our situation. I’m not going to Europe to work, my husband is retired, we are not travelling for medical reasons, I’m not providing training and development, we aren’t going to volunteer, nor am I going to further my education. Without making a selection, you don’t get access to the portal where the necessary documents can be uploaded and an appointment made. So, I had to choose something, and they would ‘fix’ it later. To make a really long story short, after a trip to the Consulate, more conversations, it turns out my husband didn’t need the visa we were seeking, but rather has to go through a totally different process once in Europe. We laugh about it now…but then, not so much. I do want to say that the young gentleman we eventually worked with at the consulate was great…it was certainly a learning process for all involved.

Covid also presented many challenges for travel, all also overcome. I never realized how many people you could call to find out the proper process, testing, timing, locations, without finding anyone who would give a definitive answer. Again, easy to laugh at now…but I can assure you, my Irish came out full force at times.

The other hurdle we were forced to deal with was my husband’s newly diagnosed need for on-going kidney dialysis. We are overwhelmed with the support provided by his medical team, our local hospital (Kelowna General Hospital)), solution provider (Baxter), client support, and government funding for the treatment Rob has received. Mind blowing to say the least! However, traveling overseas when one is required to hook up to dialysis each and every night is not a common practice. This, we learned, is new territory. Not to be defeated, we started asking questions, reading, seeking input, making phone calls, and came to discover that, while not without great effort, it is possible. So with dialysis cycler and transformer, extra solution for ‘just in case’, way more suitcases than our previous ‘carryon only’ travel mode, here we are.

Without the help and support of an amazing family, great friends, a fantastic medical team, and the opportunity to take time away from teaching at Okanagan College School of Business to entrench myself in research, we would not be 30,000 plus feet in the air, filled with excitement for what this adventure holds.

I hope you’ll follow along with our journey.

PS We are now safely in Lisbon…unfortunately our luggage didn’t make it! Decided it wanted to stay in Toronto 🤷‍♀️. Stay tuned!

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