When Google Translate doesn’t help…Blog #105

Fado…a ‘must see’ Lisbon experience.

We first discovered Google Translate during our trip to Prague some years ago. It was amazing, and helped out in so many ways from reading menus to asking for directions. Our time in Portugal has also been aided by this helpful app. While most menus provide an English translation, we have had the need for language support in several other areas. Grocery shopping, for example, was an immediate area of challenge. The first day upon arrival in Lisbon we needed groceries. No car? No problem. Grocery stores were within close walking distance from our AirBnB. For the most part, buying meat, cheese, fruits, and vegetables was easy (as long as one could identify what the fruit or veggie was). What wasn’t so easy was knowing what kind of yogurt, oatmeal, milk, or even shampoo and conditioner was before us on the shelves. Open  Google Translate, use the camera feature, and we were good to go! 

In one instance while dining at a favourite eatery, Basilio, there was a sign hanging on the basket of ginger on the counter by our table. The symbol was a dog sitting, with a line across the picture. We have similar types of signage in Canada to indicate such things as no smoking, or no cell phones. You know the ones. Looking at the placement and context of where the sign was located, we were certain the message was clear.  My husband and I had a lengthy discussion around why ginger may be dangerous for dogs, and why a restaurant would need to provide signage to that effect. Being curious, and wanting to share this knowledge with family and friends, I took a picture. It wasn’t until we returned to our apartment that I actually asked Google to translate the words accompanying the picture; ‘Nao sentar’. 

Ok, those Portuguese speaking readers will immediately realize our mistake. The ginger basket was simply a vehicle on which the owners could hang the sign until needed to mark a table for incoming customers. For those of you, like us, not familiar with the language, Nao sentar means ‘don’t sit’. To be fair, had we used Google in the restaurant we would have learned this, but would have missed out on a very interesting conversation about the perils of ginger and our canine friends.

We recently had incident where we wished Google Translate could have helped. In preparing to leave Portugal to move to our new European location in Spain, we had to pick up a vehicle in Faro. After a rather frustrating experience (too long to get into here), we were upgraded to a Mercedes van (a little extreme for the two of us). However, it provides comfort, and plenty of room for us, our luggage, and other supplies we need to take along. We should have known we were in trouble when the customer service people told us the vehicle was from Spain, having been dropped off by one way travellers. 

My husband started the vehicle, and successfully drove out of the car lot, figured out where the gear changer was located, and headed back to Albufeira. Everything was good, until he touched something, causing the car to get stuck in first gear! Finding a place to pull over, he pushed, tapped, and pulled on every available lever and button (of which there were many). It began to feel like our youngest grand daughter pushing buttons, pulling levers, and turning wheels to make things happen on her Fisher Price car! To be fair, the car was trying to tell us what to do by way of information showing up on the control panel. The trouble was, all instructions were in Spanish! There is nothing in the basic Spanish lessons we are both taking that equipped us to know what should be done to get us out of this predicament, nor could our precious app get close enough to provide any kind of translation. Finally, after much random button and lever maneuvering, the gear changer was released…although my husband had no idea which was the magic move. 

Unsure of which road to take to get us home, rather than using my phone I decided to use the car GPS. You can guess what happened…Spanish! AND GPS gadgets that more resembled a gaming controller than a car GPS! For sanity sake, I used my phone. 🤷‍♀️

Knowing we only spoke English, why no-one at the rental place thought to introduce us to the foreign machine we had just rented remains a mystery. However, we did stop at one of their drop off locations once we made it back to Albufeira, where one of their service agents kindly switched the system to English, linked my phone via bluetooth, and introduced us to the various bells and whistles possessed by the van. We breathed a sigh of relief. 

My husband and I have both been driving for more years than I choose to mention. We have driven all kinds and sizes of cars, in various countries, but have never found ourselves in this kind of predicament. It’s interesting how inadequate and foolish you can feel, trying to do something you have done for years, but being completed lost and overwhelmed because what was once familiar, changed. I think many leaders are feeling like this. They have been leading teams, creating processes, fostering cultures successfully throughout their careers, but now find they have to re-think and re-learn everything. They knew how to be effective, but what was familiar has now changed. Learning how to lead and support their people in the fast changing contexts in which they find themselves can be like operating in an unfamiliar language. 

A word of advice? Seek out people who know this new environment, this exciting, yet overwhelming working environment, and ask for help. Believe me, you will learn to enjoy the ride once you do.    

Carvoeiro, one of our favourite places in the Algarve.

The rubber band snapped!…Blog #104

Still overwhelmed by such beauty!

Two more weeks in Albufeira, Portugal, before heading to Valencia, Spain. We are thoroughly enjoying, and appreciating, balmy 16-20 degree celsius weather, boasting azure skies, sometimes dotted with fluffy clouds, and the occasional refreshing rain. Most days start with breakfast on the deck, where we can look out between buildings and clearly see the ocean spread out before us. The background sounds combine the squawks of seagulls, sweet songs of various birds, people calling to each other on the street, or from their balconies, and vehicles manoeuvring through steep, winding streets. The morning routine of hanging laundry out to dry and walking your garbage to the end of the street is embraced by all. Mail is delivered by a CTT delivery person often driving a scooter, with parcels dropped off by the delivery van. Mid-morning see’s an elderly couple walk down the hill for their morning coffee, while several locals gather outside the cafe for a morning espresso and chat. All this from my office balcony perch on our 4th floor apartment.

View from ‘my’ table

Somedays I head to my favourite cafe, Roca Beach Bar, right on the beach. Not only is the coffee good, but the Pastéis de Nata are amazing, served warm with cinnamon to sprinkle on top. I’ve become a regular, and receive such a warm greeting each time, with a genuine ‘check-in’ to see how my work is going. They have even dubbed a table as being ‘your table’, one that welcomes me with a breath-taking view of the vast beach and ocean just steps away.

Then the inevitable thing happens. Around 17:00, the sun loses its warmth, and slowly slips from view, eventually causing the air to drop to single digit temperatures. I had no idea how cold it would be in the evenings here in the south of Portugal. Ok, not as cold as at home in Canada, but still cold. We learned that the buildings are constructed to provide cool in the blistering summer heat, but in no way equipped to warm their inhabitants during the winter. From white concrete walls, to beautifully tiled floors, summer efficiency doesn’t feel so great when trying to warm oneself while huddled around a fireplace. Sure, it does a great job of taking the chill off the air, but once you stray more than a few feet away from its blaze, the chill quickly wraps itself around you.

This is where the rubber band snapping comes in. Finding wood for a fire is easy here in Albufeira; you simply add it to the grocery list and pick up with your regular staples…oat milk, granola, eggs, fire starter, logs, firewood. Easy. Except these 9 kilos plus bundles are stacked in bins that require one to bend over, lift, twist, and drop into a shopping cart. I’ve been doing it successfully for 2½  months, until a few days ago. I have no idea what I did differently, except that my back decided enough was enough, and snap! Instant pain, instant ‘I can hardly move’, instant inconvenience! The shopping cart became my crutch until reaching the ‘comfort’ of our car.

With the aid of a heating pad, topical cream, Tylenol, and rest, I am well on my way to healing. The past few days, however, have made getting comfortable a real challenge. Sitting for too long hurts, lying down makes me ache, and walking has dropped a few gears to slow motion. However, even though I knew the bricks creating the footpaths had gaping cracks, the roads had many potholes, the stairs were totally uneven, and the walk to the beach was a downhill trek (not to mention the uphill return climb), the pain that shot through my back with each crack, dip, step, and hill, drew attention to these irregular surface conditions. Nothing changed about the footpaths, roads, or hills over the past few days, but my attention was drawn to them because something in my body had broken down, making it difficult for me to ‘make do’ with such uneven terrain. 

It got me thinking about life and work in general. When things are going well, when there are no new challenges that come along to disrupt the flow, we don’t pay much attention to problems or issues. Sure, they exist, but we work around them, we put up with them, until we can’t. Why is it that something, be it catastrophic or minor, has to happen before we give attention to those things that we can actually change in order to make life, systems, processes, or relationships better? Why do we settle for mediocrity when we could actually implement changes that just maybe, would bring growth and increased joy or efficiency to our personal and professional lives?

I obviously can’t do anything to change the surface conditions in Albufeira, nor can I change the building construction; however, my rubber band experience can serve as a reminder to pay attention to what I can change (yup, even how I lift). And more than that…do something to effect that change.

Warning, time to recalibrate…Blog #103

I love the sea (just ask my family and friends). Not only in a way that some people enjoy a seaside vacation, or playing in the sand, or jumping waves…although all that is fantastic. My love, my fascination, my attraction to the sea is so deeply rooted in my psyche, it’s hard to put into words. I love the smells, sounds, sights, and yes, the feeling of that sea salt on my lips and skin. Every chance I can I head to the ocean. It’s my happy place, my go-to when life gets overwhelming or doesn’t make sense. Being by or on the sea births certain emotions, an inner peace, an awesome appreciation, an addiction that produces a visceral reaction every time I get to be in its presence. 

It’s why I choose to spend 8 months of my extended study leave in Portugal and Spain…by the ocean.

Annalong Harbour, Co Down, N.I. by J. Hinde. This is what Uncle Artie’s boat would have looked like.

I grew up by the sea in a beautiful town called Bangor in Northern Ireland and loved to visit our grandparents who lived an hour down the coast in Annalong, a small fishing village. What I loved about both places was the location…right on the Irish Sea. My Uncle Artie was a fisherman, his ‘office’ was a fishing vessel on the wild Irish Sea, an area that is notorious for having some of the roughest seas around Britain. Our family vacations, whether in the South of Ireland, England, Scotland, or Ibiza were always by the sea.

Today we had another amazing experience that has added to my rich memory bank of adventures on the sea…this time a different part of the Atlantic Ocean, off the shores of Albufeira, Portugal. To celebrate our 4th grandchild’s 13th birthday, the 10 of us joined with 8 other travellers for a 3 hour expedition in search of dolphins (which, to our delight, we found!), then to cruise the coastline as we marvelled at the many caves and spectacular beaches, many of which are only accessible by water. Even though it was a rather cool, damp day (very Irish), the experience was breathtaking and exhilarating.

Once more I was transported to that special, happy place. A feeling of wonder and insignificance in such a vast body of water, and yet deep peace and contentment. It really was one of those transcendent moments.

Even though, or perhaps because, I grew up by the sea, I have a very healthy respect for the power it holds, and the need for warning signs that guide ships and small vessels to safety. Warnings that can be relied on, depended on, warnings that are constant.

Warning signs that if ignored can end in catastrophe. 

My Uncle knew what he needed to look for to avoid imminent danger on those days when the swell of the water threatened to swallow the vessel. Before the global positioning system (GPS) was created in the late 1970s, fishermen like my uncle depended on the beacon of a lighthouse to guide them to shore, steering them away from being dashed against treacherous coastlines. They knew they could trust the lighthouse, that it was reliable, constant, a lifeline to guide them into the safety of the harbour.

As my research continues to focus on leading in uncharted waters, I wonder what warning signs might be ignored by men and women who care so deeply about those they lead? I wonder if perhaps in their desire to feed and nurture others, they become too busy to notice their own needs, only to find themselves dangerously close to the rocky shoreline, having ignored their own warning signs?

Where is your happy place? Where do you go to hit ‘pause’, to recalibrate? Where do you go to get life back in perspective, to find balance, to get grounded? What refreshes and rejuvenates you so that you can continue to be the person those in your circle of care and influence draw on for encouragement, support, and leadership? 

I’m more than happy to share my sea with you…

Praia do Inatel, Albufeira, Portugal

Culture: celebrating similarities & differences… Blog #102

Cliffs at Sagres

In my previous post, I expressed the hope that being in a place for four months (as we are in Portugal and then Spain) would afford us some of the cultural insights that are unique to these areas. We have not been disappointed; culture and daily living is different than in Canada. Sitting at a restaurant, on the beach, sipping some delicious Portuguese wine, my husband and I had a great discussion around what we were observing as cultural differences between this location and at home in Canada. We laughed, the very fact that we had been sitting, sipping, for over two hours with no-one hovering wondering when we were leaving, no server coming to offer the conta (bill), or asking if we want anything else, was a stark contrast to what we would have experienced at home. Portuguese people know how to relax and truly enjoy the moment. No one is in a hurry, even if you really do need to leave the restaurant for an appointment! We adjusted, and have learned to ask for the bill a while before needing to leave. It is a joy, however, to have this travel time with a minimal schedule, where waiting to pay is not an issue.

Several of our experiences have caused us to recognize cultural differences, one such phenomenon relates to when places are open, or not. Because of the time of year in Albufeira, many places are simply closed until the arrival of tourists some time around the end of February. When in February? Well, that’s rather vague. Many places were already closed in November when we arrived, with either no signage indicating when they would re-open, or simply ‘closed for the holidays’. What holidays? Not sure…some opened for two weeks around Christmas, but closed again at the end of the first week in January, when once more they were ‘closed for the holidays’. Apparently holidays could be four months, two weeks, sporadic, or even five days a week. One place we kept trying to go to for Sunday pot roast turned out to be quite a challenge. First time we went most menu items were not actually available due to recent restrictions that would have them limit patrons for a predetermined number of days before Christmas until after the New Year. Understandable. The second time we went, arriving for dinner at 4:30pm, we were told they only served food until 4pm. No problem, we would come back next Sunday for their special pot roast, or roast chicken dinner, served from noon to 4pm. The day came, and my husband was pumped! He was salivating over the prospects of yorkshire puddings, bringing back warm memories of Sunday dinners at my parent’s home…Mom had mastered the art of cooking pot roast and yorkshire puddings! We arrived, sat down and were quickly told that the cook decided to take the week off, so they weren’t serving food that week. Really?? 

At this point, it simply became laughable. Even the British culture of the proprietor had been influenced by the Portuguese culture they had been part of for so many years. Seeing our disappointment, and ‘what can you do,’ laugh, they assured us that next Sunday, pot roast would be served up, guaranteed! We were there, and it did not disappoint.

However, as we left the restaurant, I had a real sense of feeling cheated. Not because of the quality of food, or the generous quantity that overflowed the dinner plates, but because I was in Portugal, eating a traditional English Sunday lunch, drinking Guinness, surrounded by British people. I truly missed hearing a cacophony of conversations, in multiple languages.

One of the beauties of Europe is that while you are residing in one country, everywhere you go you’ll encounter folks from many countries and cultures; just be quiet, listen, and take it all in. It can be intimidating and exciting all at once, but there is such a beauty to it. Fortunately for us, the majority of people speak some degree of English (how I wish I had learned a second language!). To give you an example, we were enjoying breakfast at a cafe last week. Over the course of our time there, we visited with people from Ireland, England, Wales, Germany, India, and of course, Portugal. It was so much fun. The common thread of course was travel, and a love for learning about others experiences. Some encounters, however, aren’t quite so successful. 

Yes, that is a man fishing on the edge!

This week my husband and I visited the end of the world, Sagres, at least that’s what Europeans considered it until the 15th century. Sagres is a small village of 2000 people, located on the very south-western tip of Portugal and is a place unlike no other we have experienced. A small place, it’s beauty is truly breathtaking, from the landscape, to the 100 plus species of flora, to the cliff-side walks overlooking vistas of unending ocean, to the 25 isolated beaches with avid surfers, and of course we can’t forget the fearless line fishing happening on the precipice of 200 foot high cliffs! This truly blew my mind! Do these people not know the potential danger and certain death they were inches away from? That several of their co-adventurers fall to their death every year? Well, apparently they do, but it hasn’t curtailed these brave souls from fishing here for many years. These are one of the many sights that remind me I’m from Canada…our authorities would have shut such activity down years ago due to potential danger. I’ve lost count of how many times we have commented on this very thing throughout our travels…apparently we North Americans need someone else to let us know what is dangerous, then set up rules to save us from ourselves. Hmmm!

I digress…while walking around the peaceful Fortaleza de Sagres,  we passed a lovely, elderly couple who were clearly enjoying their time exploring this wonderful area together. By the third time our paths crossed, it seemed right that we should have some kind of an interaction. Which we did. We exchanged greetings, neither speaking the other’s language.. We learned they were from France. When we said we were from Canada, they immediately assumed we also spoke French! They excitedly talked about some of the places they visited in Canada: Montreal, Quebec City, Montcalm, Gatineau, to name a few. However, when we somehow communicated that we were from the West Coast of Canada, and couldn’t speak a word of French, they offered a rather pathetic “Vous ne parlez pas français aussi?” Which I rightly assumed meant they were expressing empathy towards our lack of French speaking ability. (I had to get my multilingual niece to help with this interpretation!). Still, using hand signals, body language, and tiny words, we were able to share a moment together celebrating the awesomeness of the creation we were enraptured with. We said ‘Au revoir’, they said ‘Goodbye’, and we parted company. Even that short encounter brings certain joy when shared by fellow travellers who have a deep appreciation for not only our similarities, but also our differences. 

Fortaleza de Sagres

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!

I love learning…blog #96

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

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

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

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

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

Books read so far:

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