Happy New Year, Anniversary and Birthday!

HalfDogNew Years is a marvelous time.  We look ahead to the year before us with hope and anticipation.  There are predictions of what we think might happen and plans and resolutions* for what we want to happen.

The way we approach birthdays and anniversaries, however, is much different.  These are events to look back and reflect on the year that has past.  While New Years is celebrated at the beginning of the year, birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated at the end, giving them an overtone of, “We survived another one!  Let’s celebrate!”

What if birthdays and anniversaries were celebrated in the same way as New Years?  What if they were a time to eagerly look forward to the year ahead?  What if we celebrated a child’s first birthday on the day they are born?  What if couples celebrated their first anniversary on their wedding day?  What if organizations celebrated the first anniversary of their existence on the day they are formed?

Now I’m not advocating that we rewrite treasured tradition.  However, I do suggest that each and every day is a time to reflect back as on birthdays and anniversaries, and a time to lean forward into the future as on New Years.

Each moment is lived on a fine point in time between what has been and what is yet to be.  Life is a dance of hopes upon a stage built of memories.  This ever shifting place called Now is rich with experience and possibility.  The wonders of a new beginning are there for us, if our eyes are open to see them, and our hearts are open to embrace them.

Happy New Year!  Happy New Day!  Happy New You!

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on,
with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”  Hal Borland

Photo courtesy of AESThetic Photography

*For a great perspective on plans vs. resolutions check out the recent post by Steve Keating – Plans or Resultions?

Gratitude, Pretzels and a Forest Road

The road through the forest wasn’t giving me any opportunities to pass. I was stuck behind a fellow pulling a trailer, and he was plodding along. While I appreciated the extra time to enjoy the beauty of nature around me, I was getting impatient. Eventually we came to a spot where he was able to pull over and let me by. To show my gratitude for his kindness I reached over to wave to him as I passed.

Problem 1: I was snacking on pretzels at the time, and had some in my hand. When I raised my hand to wave to the gentleman, only one finger came up. And it was not a good finger. So my wave of gratitude accidentally turned into an obscene gesture. I wanted to tell him thank you, but instead I flipped him off.

Problem 2: My teenage son was with me, sitting in the passenger seat. When I reached across the car to wave, my inadvertent gesture was right in front of his face. “DAD!” screamed my horrified son, “He was trying to help you!” “I know,” I replied, choking on my pretzels and humility, “I didn’t mean to.”

Whether or not it is the Thanksgiving holiday where you are, this is a good time to give thanks.  It’s always a good time to give thanks. If there is someone who has been kind to you, express your gratitude. It may not go perfectly, but don’t worry about it. Make the effort. Say thanks.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present
and not giving it.”  William Arthur Ward

Image: pixbox77 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When the Do Falls

Life isn’t lived in a straight line.  There are bends we plan for and hairpin twists we never see coming.  These changes in course have an impact on our life, for they are the stuff of life itself.

In the Be-Do cycle our doing flows from our being, and enriches our being. When that is in place it’s a cycle of growth. But a change in what we do can have a significant impact on the cycle.

Milestone life changes such as graduation, marriage, a new job, moving or retirement are events we look forward to with joy and anticipation.  But they can have unexpected effects if we don’t stop to think through how life will be different afterwards.  Being promoted to a new job brings new opportunities, but can also mean leaving behind relationships that affect our lives in ways we don’t realize.

Profound events such as the unexpected loss of a job or the death of someone close to us can really shake us up.  One day our normal routine comes to a screeching halt, and we’re no longer doing what we were doing before. The most severe, punch-in-the-gut experiences can even leave us with a hole in our life that can’t be filled, where there is no new lifestyle that will provide the activities that allow the same expression and enrichment of who we are. It’s a time when we really need to dig deep and get a good hold of who we are.

Expression

What we do is an expression of who we are.  When what we do changes it can take away a channel for us live out who we are.  The key thing to remember in times of such change is that what we do does not define us.  It should reveal us and reflect us, but we are who we are, not what we do.  Even though what we do is changing, we are still who we are.

A change in our doing actually provides a good opportunity to step back a moment and reflect on who we are.  Am I who I think I am? What are my core values? Are my new activities true to these values? Do I need to adjust my vision? How was I living out who I am prior to the change?  In what new ways can I live that out?

Enrichment

What we do should enrich who we are.  This is where a disruption to Do can really be hard.  When we lose a source of enrichment and fulfillment in our lives it can have a major impact on our being.

Again this is a good time to reflect.  What benefits and blessings was I receiving from what I was doing before?  Which were the most meaningful to me?  What would my life be like without that?  Can I find another source in my new activities, or start another new activity that would provide what I need? If a new job isn’t supplying an important element of enrichment for me, can I find it in a volunteer activity?

As a leader

Leading is guiding people forward and bringing about change.  But change for people often means a change in what they do.  As a leader it is important to be aware of the impact this has.  If the leader has built this change upon communal values and shared vision, the new actions will provide the people an even better means to live out who they are,  and will enrich who they are in new and wondrous ways.  However, if the change brought about by a leader only interferes with the Be-Do cycle of the individuals, then the individuals will not grow, and neither will the team or organization.

When life takes a turn and there is major change in what you normally do – Hold onto who you are. Seize the opportunity to better understand and even refine who you are. Reflect on how to live that out. Seek new means of enrichment, in order that you may become all that you are meant to be.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” Alan Watts

Photo courtesy of AESThetic Photography

Red Wings, Whitethroats and purpose

When the male Red-Winged Blackbirds first arrive in spring they are relatively relaxed, and even gregarious at times.  But when the females arrive a couple weeks later suddenly the males are aggressive and their KonKaRee call becomes raucous.  You can tell when the ladies are back in town just by observing the change in behavior of the guys.

When the White Throated Sparrows come through in the spring they sing “Old Sam Peabody” with pure tone and precise pitch.  In the fall when they come back through they sing the same song, but the pitch is all over the place, and they put no effort into it.  The song that’s so beautiful in the spring is hilarious in the fall.

What makes the difference?  Purpose.  The analogy may be obvious but I will state it anyway, birds and people are alike in this regard.  A clear task spells out exactly what to do.  A clear goal gives direction.  A clear purpose bolsters tasks and goals to the Why power.  Purpose shows why to do that task and why to take that direction.  When people have a clear task with a clear purpose towards a clear goal they sing a different tune.

“Purpose is what gives life a meaning.” Charles H. Perkhurst

Image: Vail Daily, Preston Utley / AP Photo

Burnt out? Check your pilot light.

Exhausted? Unable to concentrate? Struggling to get motivated? These are classic signs of burnout. The vision is that of an engine that has been running too fast too long and finally goes up in smoke, leaving the car to sputter to the side of the road. But a better image may be of a pilot light that has flickered out. If you’re feeling burnt out the problem may not be that you’re having to put too much into what you do, but rather that you’re not getting enough out of it.

For several years I was on a committee at work that was very active and productive. It was not part of my regular job, so it had a volunteer nature to it. It required extra time and energy on my part. After the committee ended I noticed something unexpected. I felt burnt out. Why, I wondered, would I feel burnt out now when I have more time available and not back when I was in the thick of it with that committee?

It was because I was getting more out of being on that committee than I was putting into it. It allowed me to act upon values that are important to me. It challenged my ways of thinking. I learned about myself, and about how people relate in a corporate environment. It was hard work but I grew from it.

If you’re feeling burnt out, take a break, at least for a moment. Don’t just take a break to rest and let the ashes cool. But take a break to check your pilot light. Take time to simply be and to think. Who am I? What am I doing and why am I doing it? How does what I’m doing fit with who I am? Is it in alignment with who I am, does it express who I am? In doing what I am doing am I enriched by it? Am I growing?

Is there something I am doing that I should stop doing, because it demands much of me but doesn’t really fit with who I am? Is there something I am doing, perhaps something I have to do, that I just need to better understand why I am doing it? And here is a really odd question to be asking yourself in a time of burnout, is there something I am not doing that I should be doing, something rewarding and enriching that would keep my pilot light going?

Keep a light on!

“Stress is not the enemy. A lack of refueling and renewing and recovery against the stress you face every day at work is really what depletes your resources & causes you to lose your productivity, to lose your momentum, to lose your motivation, to lose your energy.” Robin Sharma

Image: Suvro Datta / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shut the door! It stinks! – a lesson in communication

One spring the mugo pine in front of our house became infested with worms that were eating the needles off the bush. I decided to take the manly approach to get rid of them – chemicals. Well, using a shotgun would have been manlier. But when you use firearms for insecticide it slows down the recovery time of the plant.

On returning home from the store with the liquid weapon the label said (I know, not manly, I read the instructions, I admit it) that it was in concentrate form to be mixed with water (good thing I read the label). As I mixed it up the concoction smelled absolutely horrible. The odor itself would have been enough to fend off worms, wolves and most small invading armies. Carrying the potion over to the bush I walked past the front door of the house. I noticed that the door was wide open. I didn’t want the terrible smell to get inside so I yelled in to my wife, “Shut the door! It stinks!”

After I had committed the application, cleaned up and got everything put away safely I went in to talk to my wife. Our conversation revealed something interesting. When I had yelled in through the door, she was not aware that I was working with an odiferous chemical. What I was not aware of was that she had been singing as she was doing spring cleaning. So here she had been on a beautiful spring day, working with the door open to take in the fresh air, singing joyfully as she went and I yell in, “Shut the door! It stinks!”

Fortunately she realized that I could not have possibly meant what she heard me say. She knew there had to be more to the story. Had I yelled in, “Please close the door so this awful smell doesn’t get in the house,” would have raised other questions for her about me, but would have been more effective.

I learned a lesson in communication that day. It’s not just about the message that’s delivered. It’s about the message that’s received.

 

What’s better than engagement?

Employee engagement is held up as a key element to corporate success. It is important that employees have a sense of connection with the organization. But what about connecting the organization to the employee? What about the rapidly changing work environment, is employee engagement still enough? Or is it time to focus on something more?

While the general concept of engagement is a wonderful thing, unfortunately it is often regarded in a mechanical view of the corporate world: The Do loop of sacrifice & compensation. In this context the very word “engagement” takes on its mechanical connotation. A clutch is something you engage. Employee engagement seeks to make sure that each individual gear is meshed smoothly with the corporate cogs.

With a line drawn between work and life there is no real balance to be found between the two. How can an employee be engaged at work when they are forced to leave life at the door? What does it matter when what matters doesn’t matter?

And the situation degrades further when economic conditions worsen. The work side gets jammed with more pressure to Do, and employees are just thankful to have the problem and not the less fortunate alternative. Too often employees are thought to be engaged in their work when all they are is married to their job.

It’s important that employees are personally connected with the organization. But if people aren’t able to fully be who they are in their work, the most that engagement will ever produce is mediocrity. Real success is not found in connecting the individual to the organization.

The key is in making sure that within the organization
each individual remains connected to who they are.

So, what goes beyond employee engagement?

It’s not just about engagement; it’s about expression & enrichment: The Be-Do loop. Is an individual able to work in a way that builds upon and expresses who they are? Are individuals enriched by their work, do they become more from what they do?

“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets out of it
but what he becomes by it.”
  John Ruskin

This isn’t a management issue. It’s not an HR issue. This is a leadership issue, and that means it’s the responsibility of each individual who comprises the organization. In the network of relationships and interactions each person must be wholly regarded and respected for who they are, not just perceived as the piece of them that shows up for work.

What are your suggestions? How do we go beyond engagement to create a more fulfilling workplace? Are you engaged in your work? Is your work an expression of who you are? Are you enriched by your work? Are you there to make a living or to make a difference? How does an organization create a corporate culture that recognizes each individual for their intrinsic worth and not just their value to the corporation? What’s better than employee engagement?

Photo courtesy of AESThetic Photography

Dooby Dooby – Be Do Be Do

Rivers and RoadsBE  Set aside the to-do list for a moment.  All those tasks waiting for you, they can wait a bit longer.  Any concerns you may have about the perceived importance of the work you do, let it go.  Pause and ask yourself a couple questions – Who am I?  Who do I want to be?

Dig a little deeper: What are my values? Beliefs? My vision? My perspective on the world around me? My gifts and talents? What are the key experiences and memories that have shaped me? In what areas am I particularly knowledgeable? What relationships are most important to me?

While the world focuses on what we do, as discussed in the previous post, everything really hinges on who we are. This is the starting point. Before you can effectively assess what you want to do, you need to have a clear understanding of who you are and who you want to be.

The doing is indeed important, of course. If we didn’t do anything the world would quickly come to a screeching halt and we would be rather bored. However, what we do needs to flow from who we are. Doing needs to spring from being. Our actions should build on our gifts and talents. Our decisions need to be in alignment with our beliefs and our values.

What we do should also be an expression of who we are. What we do does not define us, but it should reveal us. If what we do does not paint an accurate picture of who we are then we are not being authentic. It’s an indication that our doing is not in alignment with our being. This is not sustainable, and it will eventually reveal something else about who we are.

Connecting this all together in a powerful way, what we do should in turn enrich who we are. What we do should reinforce or refine our values, increase our knowledge, improve our abilities. The primary purpose of doing is that we become more from it. When all this is in place it creates a cycle of growth.

Unfortunately, this can also become a cycle of decline. When what we do is not true to our values, or when our doing only drains us and pulls us away from what is important to us, then it becomes a downward spiral. We become less from it, and in turn are able to do less. We don’t become all that we are meant to be.

Once you have a clear understanding of who you are and who you can be, then pick up that task list again. For each item on the list ask yourself, is what I’m doing and how I do it true to who I am? Is it in alignment with who I am and express who I am? Does what I do and how I do it enrich who I am? Does it affirm my values and lead me towards my vision? Do I learn from it? Does it challenge me to become even more than I am now?

I am not who I am because of what I do.
I do what I do because of who I am.

Photo courtesy of AESThetic Photography

Do

DO  The world pivots on that little world.  Days are structured around to-do lists, lives lived with dreams of what we want to do.  We are defined, categorized and ranked by what we do.  You meet someone new and one of the first questions you will ask each other is, “So, what do you do?”  Ads remind us to “Just Do It.”

To make our doing more efficient the Industrial Age grouped individuals into organizations, each individual plugged into their part of the machine.  The engine that drives the machine is the premise that the individual will sacrifice their time and energy for the organization.  In turn the organization will compensate the individual.  Ever wonder why it’s called compensation?

Do Loop

Fueling the engine is the concept that the more an individual sacrifices for the organization, the more they will be compensated. And from the other side, the more the organization compensates the individual, the more they will sacrifice. Trouble is,

Employees are people.
And so are organizations.

What also gets sacrificed in this model is each person’s full individuality. So much of the stuff of life just doesn’t fit into the organizational machine.  We draw lines at the beginning and end of the day, and at the end of the week, with ‘life’ on this side and ‘work’ on the other.  And employees put up pictures at work to remind them of their real lives.

Unless your goal is to be the biggest gear in the corporate machine, dreams of what you really want to be doing, of what really matters to you, get thrown off to the side into a bucket labeled “Someday.”  Someday I’ll take up that hobby.  Someday I’ll spend more time with my family.  Someday I’ll take that trip.

Isn’t there a better way?

What if there was no such thing as work-life balance,
but rather work was just part of the richness of life? 

Isn’t there some way we can get done what needs to be done without dehumanizing people?  I believe there is.  Beginning with the next post we will begin exploring the Be-Do model, another way to look at how the world works.

S.A.R.

When our daughter was a wee tot we bought her a 4-wheel scooter for Christmas.  It unfortunately came with those three dreaded words, “Some assembly required.”  Giving it to her in the box and letting her put it together herself would have been an option. But I really didn’t want to have her using my tools at her young age, and run the risk of her showing me how they’re supposed to be used.
So I set about assembling the thing myself.  In the process of jointly building a scooter and character, I discovered a part was missing.  The instructions had an address to write to if a part was defective or missing.  I put the new toy together without the part for Christmas, and then sent the company the following letter.

Twas the night before Christmas and under the tree
Sat a Playskool Tyke Bike, a screwdriver and me.
The bike was in parts all snug in its box.
I began to assemble it with no major shocks.

When all of a sudden there arose such a clatter.
My wife ran to the room to see what was the matter.
“I can not complete this!” she heard me to say,
“I’m missing part 231-21a.”

Well, I put it together the best that I could,
Though my poor daughter could not steer it so good.
So you see, you would be a dear friend,
If part 231-21a you would send.

One day a package arrived in the mail.  I was surprised by the size, it was larger than the part I had requested.  On opening it I saw they had sent not just the part but a new bike.  It too needed to be assembled, but that was fine with me.  In the package was a form that the company used to indicate which part they were sending.  The form was crossed out, and handwritten across the bottom was the note, “Send whole unit.”

May your Christmas be completely merry, even if it’s not completely perfect.