Chunky Monkeys

imagesDelegating monkeys is an important part of being a leader, partner or parent.  There is a delicate balance between abdicating and delegating.  Abdicating can happen when a leader chooses to ignore a situation (usually a sticky, messy and uncomfortable monkey) which allows the issue to slide down to the next level of management.  Not good delegation.

As Ken Blanchard said in his book, The One Minute Manager meets the Monkey, “for every monkey there are two parties involved, one to work it and one to supervise it”.  The monkey is the task or project.  You may have given the monkey to your child, co-worker or assistant but that doesn’t mean that you have absolved yourself of any other responsibilities.  You’ll need to make sure that the monkey is getting fed….and not over fed.  You don’t want to have a bunch of chunky monkeys swinging around.

So how do you take care of the monkeys without getting them back?  Here are some ideas:

1. Pick.  Pick the right time and place to delegate.  If you are in the middle of serving twenty people a Thanksgiving meal and your daughter has never made gravy before…maybe you should wait until there is a little more time and (in my case) more patience before you give a gravy clinic.  If you are going to give a monkey to someone, pick the right time to do it.

2. Decide.  Decide if this task or project should be delegated.  If it’s not clear who is caring for a particular monkey, then you have decided.  You have abdicated and the monkey is running loose and no one knows who is in charge.  Like that annoying employee that reports to you but that no one likes and is afraid of.  You aren’t handling the monkey, so everyone else has to.  Decide if the monkey is yours or…not.

3. Select.  Once you have decided it’s the right monkey to delegate, select the right person or group to take care of the monkey.  If the new incentive plan needs an Excel expert, then find one.  Don’t just give the project to the closest person who seems available (especially if you don’t know their Excel abilities).  The monkey needs the right talent to take care of it.  Not just another animal at the zoo.

4. Define.  Define what success looks like.  If you ask your child to mow the lawn, you better be clear with timelines, parameters for what mowing the lawn entails (leaf blowing, edging, bagging of grass, etc.), and if there will be any compensation involved.  There have been plenty of family squabbles over something as minor as what mowing the lawn entails.  Make sure you define how to take care of the monkey.

5. Ask.  Make sure that they are up to the challenge of caring for a new monkey right now.  Maybe their plate is full.  Maybe they already have 50 monkeys and 13 of them are sick and in need of intensive care.  If I ask my daughter to edit a blog post for me (and I frequently do), I better make sure she’s not in the middle of mid-terms.  It’s important to ask if she has time for one more monkey.

6. Delegate.  Once you have completed steps 1-5, then hand off the monkey.  Knowing that it is the right time, place and person will make this much easier.  Instill your confidence in their monkey care-taking abilities and then walk away.  If they think there is any chance that you will be back for the monkey, it will erode their confidence and commitment to care for the monkey.

7. Track.  Track progress after you delegate.  Make sure they’re grooming, training and not over feeding the monkey. Make sure they aren’t taking on too many other monkeys or that the monkey you delegated to them may not get as much care and attention.  Let them know their progress along the way.  Just because you delegated, doesn’t mean you have absolved yourself of all responsibility.  Check in on the care and feeding of the monkey.

People who effectively delegate their monkeys are ultimately better leaders and citizens.  The team around them is more highly skilled and feels more empowered.  Try these steps and see if you can’t be more effective with your monkey management.

How do you delegate your monkeys?

Soothe your Inner Dictator

It’s difficult to control our inner dictator.  Most of us are trying to work on something.  Exercising more, spending less money, eating more fruits and vegetable, stopping procrastination…pick your poison.  The minute we derail, we beat ourselves up.  “Cathy, you lazy wench, why did you sleep in and not go for a run this morning?”, “Why did you go out to dinner when you said you would save money this month?”, “Dummy, you spent 2 hours on Facebook when you could have been doing homework.” “What is wrong with you?” Sound familiar?  Your dictator has taken over.

According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal and her book “The Willpower Instinct,” carrying around this guilt and reprimanding ourselves with this self talk is actually going to encourage more self defeating behaviors.  What?  Is she crazy?  I would be completely out of control if I didn’t reprimand myself.  My dictator is doing a great job of keeping me under wraps.  Really?

One of the studies in the book took place at Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada.  They tracked the procrastination habits of students over the course of the semester.  The ones who were self critical for the way they performed on the first exam were much more likely to make it a habit and procrastinate on subsequent exams.  Those who forgave themselves for procrastinating on the first exam, did far better and  improved their study habits.  Doesn’t it seem so much easier to have some self compassion and to soothe your inner dictator?

Here are some ways to calm your dictator:

1. Forgive.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”  Let go of your grudges towards others.  If you can’t forgive them and their failures, how can you possible forgive yourself.  I was tormented by resentment of an ex for years.  It got me nowhere but more stressed out, paranoid and resentful (as I recounted all his sins against me and mankind).  It wasn’t hurting him, it was hurting me.  Release it and move on.

2. Self Compassion.  Once you have forgiven others, it should be easier to forgive yourself and your failures.  Try to imagine if you would say any of the things that you say to yourself, to a close friend or your child.  Imagine your best friend getting on a scale and you say to them “Hey fatso, that’s what you get for eating all that cake last night.”  Why would you talk to yourself with any less compassion as you would a friend.  Forgive yourself.

3. Escape.  Anticipate the feeling of giving in when you are stressed out and plan your escape.  So if I’m used to grabbing a glass of wine when I get home from a stressed out day at work, have an alternative escape plan.  A healthier option.  A walk, some yoga, praying, crotchet, reading, gardening, P90X.  What ever you enjoy that is counter to your normal unhealthy default escape. This will trip up your inner dictator.

4. Envision.  Envision being successful with a few bumps along the way.  This is what kills most New Year’s resolutions.  You join a gym and say you will go every day and then when the first bump in the road comes along (such as I couldn’t get a babysitter) you abandon the plan.  Resolution over.  Realize you are going to have set backs and keep on keeping on.  In the story of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise always wins.

5. Awareness.  Watch how you talk about yourself to others.  I know several colleagues who constantly put themselves down or are down on life.  “I’m having a bad hair day.” “I’m overloaded.” “I’m tired.” “I’m sick.” First of all, do you want to be around someone who is such a downer?  Second, how can you possible have a good day when you are saying this out loud?  If you are feeling a little tired, say “I’m feeling great.” And add a smile.  It will turn your day around and others will be attracted to your energy.

This is a difficult process and it isn’t easily changed over night.  Your dictator has been in control for a long time so don’t plan a coup d’état.  Slowly but surely pacify your dictator’s power by reflecting on how you are viewing things and what you are letting your dictator control (and say).  Soothe your inner dictator.

What is your dictator saying?

More than a hammer.

Why can’t everyone accept me as I am? My dog does.  Why can’t everyone else?  It’s not that everyone can’t accept you and your foibles, it’s that you can be more effective if you adapt your approach.  While it may not be obvious if someone is meticulous versus flying on a wing and a prayer, it pays to take the time to read someone before advancing forward.  If we want to be more effective, we need to adapt.

If your assistant is an extrovert, it’s not a good idea to stick them in a windowless cubicle in a dim dark corner of cubicle-land.  If your four-year-old child is an introvert, they may not want to sing in the Christmas Concert (I know this from experience). If your boss is skewed toward Consciousness (C in the Everything DiSC Assessment style), he isn’t going to be happy if you come in with a proposal without any facts and figures.  He wants to be able to analyze the data.

If all you have is a hammer, every job requires a nail.  It’s not going to work with a plumbing issue.  You’re going to need to add some tools to your tool chest…or a kitchen utensil to your utensil drawer (a whisk won’t work with over easy eggs).  Let’s check out some possibilities.

1. Assess.  Take the time and invest in figuring out your style.  Whether it’s Myers-Briggs, Everything DiSC or Hogan (all personality assessments), we all walk around with different drives, comfort zones and styles.  Knowing yourself first will help you interact with others. The important thing to take from any of these assessments is that what you feel comfortable with may not be what your spouse, co-worker or boss is comfortable with.  It starts with you knowing.

2. Listen.  This is especially difficult for us extroverts.  Bite your tongue and just listen.  Let them tell their story, their version of events, their tale of whoa.  Ask a few clarifying questions but relax and be “all ears.” Many of you  (most likely introverts) reading this are perfectly fine with sitting back and listening.  Thank you.  We appreciate your patience.

3.Thick Skin.  You’re going to need one.  You can’t get your feelings hurt if someone wants more information, facts and figures.  If someone’s tendency is to challenge ever decision or course of action, realize that we need this type in the world and let them be the devil’s advocate.  About 25% of the population is a “D” or “Dominant” style.  They can come across as blunt.  To. The. Point.  It’s the way they operate.  Ditch the small talk and get to the point.  Don’t take it personally.

4. Curb.  Sometimes you need to curb your enthusiasm.  This hits close to home for me.  I tend to be “blue sky” on everything, including on  deciding what restaurant to eat in.  I’ll be throwing out 5 choices and three types of cuisine and my seventeen-year-old son will just turn to me and say “I don’t care, Mommy, so decide.”  This could be a buzz kill for me but I’ve learned to adapt.  Curb your enthusiasm and make a decision.

5. Speak up.  This is for those introverts out there.  Sometimes your going to need to eat your Wheaties and speak up.  If your spouse wants the two of you to go to Miami for the weekend and you’re concerned about the budget, speak up.  Next thing you know there will be a Rolls Royce and champagne at the airport and you will be stressing out over getting a second mortgage on the house.  Make sure you speak up.

6. Confront.  As in, confront the conflict.  This can be difficult for many of us.  We don’t want to rock the boat.  We want everyone to like us.  We are worried about judgment, hurting other’s feelings and losing respect.  If you confront an issue in a compassionate way, you can end up being the hero.  Avoidance causes resentment, confusion and frustration.  Be the hero and confront with compassion and grace

We are all different.  We all walk around with our own motivations, fears and modus operandi.  If we can embrace someone else’s approach to the world, similar to respecting someone’s cat allergy or vegetarianism, we’ll be much more effective.  Adapt your utensils for the situation at hand.  It might take a spatula or a whisk…or a plumbing wrench.

How do you adapt to others?


This is another key principle from “The Essential’s of Leadership” developed by Development Dimensions International (DDI), ask for help and encourage involvement.  Sounds simple. But is it? For most, it’s difficult to give up the reins.  Most of us are compensated for being an expert, a technician, highly skilled in creating widgets or leading others.  I think we find it difficult to ask for help when we are supposed to be the go to person.  The answer man.  “Go ask Cathy, she’ll know what to do.”

I’m not suggesting that this is asking for help with bringing in grocery bags or changing the water cooler bottle.  This is more about asking for help and getting involvement on a process, procedure or project.  Maybe it’s asking your child to select a recipe and make it for dinner, having your assistant design a page of a website or putting an ad hoc team together to do some process improvement.   This creates buy in and helps advance everyone’s skills.  The helper gets some mastery in a new area and you get better leadership and delegation skills.  It’s a win-win.

In the book, “Multipliers” by Liz Wiseman, one of the five disciplines of a Multiplier is being The Liberator. The leader that liberates is one who “releases others by restraining yourself.” This can be difficult when most people assume that the highest ranking person in the room is going to make the decision.  Time to sit on your hands and let your child, coworker or partner, flourish.

So how do you get on board?  Here are some steps:

1. Let go.  It’s time to let go.  I know it’s easier to do it yourself.  It’s faster.  More efficient.  Saves time, money and (sometimes) aggravation.  In the long run, it will pay dividends.  One of the hardest steps as a parent was to let my child cut an onion.  Handing a child a sharp cutting blade and a round slippery peeled onion sounded like a formula for disaster.  I had to let go.  If they cut off their finger, we’ll go to the emergency room (I’m happy to say it didn’t happen with either child).  How are they ever going to learn?  The bonus is, I’m not the only one who can chop onions.

2. Drop assumptions.  Unless you are clairvoyant, you don’t know what is really going to happen. Your assistant may have totally botched the last spreadsheet you delegated to him but, hey…he probably learned something and will do just great this time.  Quit predicting disaster and let them fly.  If they fall on their face, they will have learned something and so will you.

3. Get clear.  Make sure you and your helper  are clear about project parameters, deadlines and expectations.  If you tell your coworker that we need a budget for the fund raising project, make sure you explain how to develop the budget, when it’s due and any expectations for the format.  It’s not a good idea to send them off in the dark and hope for the best.  Clearly delegate for the best outcome.

4. Be available.  Once you have delegated, be available for course corrections.  I once asked my daughter to make macaroni and cheese while I attended an evening meeting.  The box asked for 1/4 cup of milk.  Somehow my eleven-year-old thought that meant 4 cups of milk.  The end result was a milky cheesy macaroni soup.  I had not been available to answer questions.  If you can’t be available, it may not be the right time to delegate.

5. Accept.  Be prepared to accept any outcome.  The results might be great or they may be a disaster.  Give encouraging feedback about the results regardless of the outcome.  A colleague of mine would say this is “pumping sunshine.” I’d like to think it’s encouraging their mastery.  I’m not suggesting that you gloss over errors that were made.  My daughter now knows the difference between a 1/4 cup and 4 cups (and we didn’t eat the macaroni).  Better luck next time. At least she tried and now, at nineteen, she can cook on her own.  Accept the results and encourage them to continue.

I realize that there may be things that are beyond someone’s abilities.  If it’s too much of a stretch, set realistic expectations.  My daughter won’t be making a turducken anytime soon.  Heck, that’s beyond my skills.  The important thing is to empower those around you and watch them blossom.

How do you encourage involvement?

Communication Chasm

Have you been in a communication chasm?  You need an immediate answer from your boss, your partner or your friend and they don’t respond.  Ugh.  It’s almost like in today’s day and age of immediate communication and overload of technology that communication comes to a stand still.  Some people respond to email.  Some people will only instant message or text (hello, anyone under 30) or something really old school: a face-to-face meeting.  How often does that happen?  Well, if the Millenials only want to text and Gen X only wants to email, the Boomers want a phone call and the Traditionals want to be eye ball to eye ball, how are we all going to all get along?

Sometimes you need to be Sherlock Holmes to try and figure out the “sweet spot” for a response.  Hm, I sent an email last week, left a voice mail yesterday…I wonder how I will get the response I need to reach an important decision before this project deadline.  We have all this technology and yet we can’t seem to get on the same page.  We have a communication chasm.

So how do we jump the divide and start exchanging information and make some decisions? Here are a few tips and ideas:

1. Open Mind. You’re going to need to start with one.  We all have our preferences.  I would love to email every person in my life and think that it will serve all my purposes.  It won’t.  Sometimes I need to call.  Sometimes I need to be face to face.  Get out from behind your PC or smart phone and test the waters.

2. Embrace. If you have a child with a cell phone. Scratch that.  If you have a child, they have a cell phone.  You will need to learn to text.  There is no other way.  Embrace the change.  My sister-in-law told me that her 80 year old mother can text because that was the only way her twenty-something granddaughters would communicate.  It’s never too late to embrace change.

3. Learn. About a year ago at an executive meeting, a colleague brought up that his daughter was traveling over seas.  I asked if he had “Skyped” with her.   Most of the gentlemen at the meeting were Boomers with laptops and camera phones.  They looked at me like I had said a dirty word.  They need to dust off their cameras and learn some new methods.  Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that you need to stay ahead of the wave.

4. Adapt.  Take some of your new found techno intelligence and start using it.  Scan your audience and try some different methods.  If you notice that someone always leaves a voice mail in response to your email, then call them back.  If your child texts a response to your voice mail, text them back.  Don’t be tied to your normal communication channel. To be more effective, you are going to need to adapt.

5. Relax. Obviously this is tough for someone impatient like myself.  Take a breath…actually a couple of deep breaths as advised by the book, The Willpower Instinct by Dr. Kelly McGonigal.  Slowing your breath for about 5 minutes can really take the edge off of the anxiety.  Just because information is flooding by doesn’t mean you need to jump into the flow.  Unless you are in a fire or earthquake, it will all work out.

6. Give. The Golden Rule.  Sometimes it pays to be the one who steps forward with communication.  Stay away from building silos in your life because someone has not been communicating as frequently as you would like.  Take the first step to reaching out to them.  Try using their chosen communication channel as a first step.

7. Assumptions.  Check your assumptions.  If your husband didn’t return an urgent text, do not assume he has been in a car accident.  If your child hasn’t acknowledged a money transfer into his account, do not assume he’s been robbed.  If your client hasn’t returned your email, do not assume that the deal is dead or, worse yet, they don’t want to work with you.   Assumptions are a dangerous barrier to communication.

Communication channels are an ever-changing landscape of possibilities.  You may not stay ahead of the curve or be an early adopter, but if you want to span the divide of the chasm, you’ll need to start taking some steps.

How do you jump the divide?

Elevating Esteem

I have been facilitating the “Essentials of Leadership” class by Development Dimensions International (DDI) for over 10 years.  The first Key Principle is “maintain or enhance self esteem”.  I find it interesting that in most classes, the concept of enhancing self esteem is much more difficult if the person you are interacting with appears to be confident.  Why enhance a self esteem that already seems to be adequately enhanced?  Why stroke someone who seems to be already full of themselves? It would be like paying a compliment to Arnold Schwarzenegger or Donald Trump.  Why do that?  They don’t need it.

I think we also get repelled when complimenting someone who is of higher status, say your boss or a peer who is obviously bringing in a bigger paycheck.  What’s the point? They never compliment me.  Why add to their bucket if they aren’t adding to mine?  Maybe their bucket will overflow and I won’t have any.

On the flip side, it so easy to give an “Atta boy” to your child for the smallest of achievements.  Heck.  I even say “good girl” when my dog stops to piddle when I walk her.  In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “Esteem” is one step below “Self Actualization”.  So creativity and problem solving (Self Actualization) can’t even happen unless the Esteem is met first.  I think we better get on the stick and start enhancing everyone’s self esteem regardless of their status or position in life.

Here are some ideas on how to elevate self esteem:

1. Thanks.  It’s important to thank those around you.  Whether it’s the server who refilled your water glass, the guy who bagged your groceries or your boss when she gives you some direction on the project; it never hurts to thank someone for even the smallest deed.   When my son finally gets to the dishes three hours after dinner is done, I thank him.  It might be late, I might be frustrated but it’s better to encourage the behavior rather than to diminish his self esteem.

2. Appreciation.  I think this is one small step up from thanks.  It’s expanding the idea of thanking someone with just a bit more detail.  For instance, “Thanks for emptying the garbage” or “I appreciate that you put more detail in the report.”  It specifies what exactly you are appreciating.  “Thanks for responding in a timely manner.” This is going to encourage more of the same.

3. Connect.  If you connect it to how or why the behavior was important, it reinforces the behavior.   So that might look like “Because you emptied the garbage for me, I made it to my meeting on time, thanks” or “Since you put more detail in the report, the committee understood the impact of the decision, thanks”.  If you can tie the behavior to an impact on the organization, group or to you personally, you start hitting the sweet spot of enhancing self esteem.

4. Sincere.  This is difficult to gauge but I think we all know in our gut when someone is being insincere. Somehow the compliment falls flat.  Perhaps it’s the inflection in the voice or that someone is normally sarcastic so it’s difficult to tell when sarcasm stops and sincerity begins.  It starts with you.  Be sincere.  If you know in your heart you are sincere; it won’t fall flat.

5.  Specific.  The more specific you are; the more bang for the buck.  There is a difference between “You look great” to “I love your blouse” to “That blouse is beautiful, the color highlights your eyes.” They are all good.  The last statement is just more effective because it’s more specific.  The enhancement of the self esteem is even greater.

6. Equal Opportunity.  Be an equal opportunity enhancer.   The meek of the world are not the only ones who need enhancement.   I think blowhards like Trump need enhancement as well.  I think that arrogance can be a sign that someone is over compensating for not receiving enough positive strokes in their life.  The best defense is a good offense.  People around them think they are full of themselves but inside they are yearning for validation.  Go ahead and fill their bucket.  You will feel better for it.  Honest.

There is pay off for all this.  People naturally gravitate to positive people.  The neighbor I grew up next door to as a kid was always positive and constantly enhanced my self esteem. She always looked for the best in me.  Be that positive influence on others in your life and they will gravitate towards you.

How do you enhance self esteem?

Think outside the Boomer Box.

The next generation is invading the workforce and we are all going to need to adapt.  The expectation of a recent college graduate is vastly different than those boomers who are checking their 401k balance everyday and trying to figure out their escape plan.  For those of you who haven’t been in a college classroom lately, let me bring you up to date, the twenty-somethings are texting on their smart phones, sitting behind laptops and  have never cracked the spine on an encyclopedia.  So imagine the shock and horror, when they enter the workforce and they are dumped into a joyless cubicle, only have access to company approved websites and can’t use their cell phone because it’s prohibited by company policy.  Hmmm.  I think we have a problem.  We just put the handcuffs on; we’re bridling a generation that doesn’t even know what that means.

The average Millennial, born between 1980 and 2000, is expected to work 1.7 years at any given company.  In Human Resource terms, that is a blink of the eye.  Recruiting, attracting, on-boarding, training and retaining seem hardly worth the effort for 1.7 years of tenure (unless of course you are McDonalds).

So how are you going to retain these “kids”?  We’re going to need to take a hard look at our work environments, policies and leadership skills and adapt.  Some boomers may delay retirement for a few more years but there is going to be deficit in the skilled employable talent pool.   The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that within 8 years, Gen Y will be the majority generation in the workforce.

Here are some ideas on how to hold on to Gen Y and Z:

1. Purpose.  GenY can easily work for the Peace Corps in Africa for 2 years as work for a for-profit company. This group is looking for a higher purpose.  Profit for shareholders isn’t likely to cut the mustard.  If you can link your company’s vision and mission to a higher purpose, Gen Y might stick around.  Is your company giving back to the community, developing green initiatives or supporting a cause?  Are you communicating that or are you writing checks and keeping your mouth shut?  Communicate it.  Often.  And in varied ways

2. Feedback. Give it to them straight.  In an article from the Harvard Business Review by Meister and Willyerd called Mentoring Millenials, what Millenials want from their boss is someone “who will give me straight feedback”.  No sugar coating.  No veiled criticism.  Cut to the chase.

3. Recognition.  This is the generation where everyone got a trophy for just participating and in some cases, they didn’t get grades or never kept score during the game.  They have been recognized just for showing up.  This doesn’t need to be a huge budget for purchasing trophies for “just showing up to work,” a specific, sincere thank you for a job well done and why it’s important to the company’s goals will suffice.  This will build loyalty.

4. Freedom. You might think about how much latitude you are giving this next generation.   Antiquated policies about dress code, cubicle decorum and a staunch 8 to 5 work schedule isn’t likely to attract these folks.  If your business permits (I’m not suggesting that a bank teller should be able to work virtually), loosen the reins a little.  If you want some contrast, check out this video about Zappos culture.

5. Social. This generation has been collaborating and socializing since grade school.  Is your company culture open to supporting collaboration below the executive team?  Are your departments throwing a BBQ once in a while?  What are you doing to get to know your younger employees?  Get social.

6. Technology.  They are going to demand that you have technology.  A 2008 LexisNexis® Technology Gap Survey found that only 14% of Boomers access social networking sites from work; 62% of Gen Y do. Does your workplace permit such things as Facebooking at work? Have you figured out how to manage it?  The workplace is changing.

7. Challenge.  Busy work isn’t going to cut it.  This group isn’t about “paying their dues” for 10 years before having an opportunity to test the waters.  My nineteen-year-old daughter had an internship this summer for a documentary company.  Within three weeks of starting, they let her edit a piece of the documentary.  Is your company willing to do that?  How are you challenging this next generation? Challenge them early and often.

8. Open. Whether you are ready or not, within the next eight years more than 50% of the workforce is going to be Millenials.  Are you open to change?  Regardless, it’s going to happen.  Work/life balance, flexible work schedules and virtual offices are here to stay.  Think outside of the boomer box and open yourself up to the next generation.

I realize that not all industries can adopt all of these measures, but we can take some steps on one or two.  This is not one-size-fits all.  The point here is to stay ahead of the talent war looming  within the next decade.

Heels dug in.

Most people don’t embrace change. It can be difficult. It’s so much easier to dig our heels in and be inflexible.  It’s a great offense.  Inflexible people are left alone. They are too difficult to deal with.  Leave Joe alone, he’ll never get on board with this idea.  Pretty soon the world is dancing around Joe because they don’t want to deal with his stubbornness. He’s out of the loop.

Organizations do this as well.   It’s easy to get caught up in “doing it the way we have always done it” mentality. It’s hard to create change.  Especially in long established businesses. Unless there is a business necessity (imperative), it’s so much easier to keep it status quo.  It’s the path of least resistance.  Why do a leadership initiative? Incentive plan? Enter a new market? If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

I’ve been traveling this past week.  I live in Eastern North Carolina.  The land of free parking, no sidewalks and a six-mile commute with one red light.  Every time I head to New York City, I need to load up on coins, cash and the capacity to adapt (easily).  In the last six days I’ve been through twenty toll booths.  Some took $.90, others $12.30.  I needed to be flexible.  The GPS was lost half the time because of new construction or, in the case of downtown Trenton, they didn’t have roads on their map.  We needed to just go with the flow.  Or as my son, who was my copilot at the time said, “Read the signs.” What a concept. Read the signs.  If I’d had my heels dug in, I’d still be in Trenton.  Actually, I’d be on an off ramp in Baltimore in the fetal position.
So, how do you embrace change? Break out of the status quo. Here are 6 steps to dig out those heels.

1. Scan. As in scan the environment. Are those around you avoiding you? Have you been invited to be on an ad hoc committee? Are you out of the loop?  Are you still wearing bell bottoms?  Are you stuck in Trenton? Your coworkers are perfectly happy to leave you in the dust if you are not open to change.  Nobody likes to associate with “Debbie Downer”. Take the temperature of your environment and see if you are reading the signs.

2. Survey.  Take a poll.  What do your closest friends think?  Ask your boss.  Ask your husband.  Ask your mother (OK…I know I’m pushing it a little far).   “Do I seem open to new ideas?” Perception is reality.  If you are perceived as a stick in the mud, you probably are a stick in the mud.

3. Listen.  When you survey, you need to be open enough to listen.  If you ask the question, you need to be able to listen to the answer.  In fact, if you aren’t willing to listen, don’t even ask.  One of the most counter-productive exercises is for an organization to do an employee survey and then do nothing.

4. Plan.  So what can you do about the perception?  You’re going to need to take a hard look at yourself and start paying attention to the “signs.” Maybe you need to work on not interrupting or your need to be right all the time.  Maybe you’re going to need to back off from being in control all the time.  Maybe you just need to buy some new clothes.  Yeah.  Seersucker is dead and so are bell bottoms.

5. Start digging out.  One shovel at a time.  There is no magic pill.  This is going to take work and all you can do is start.  One interaction at a time.  I remember that when I first started working on showing more appreciation, I missed the boat several times.  I’d forget to thank my assistant for getting the report done so quickly or my husband for taking out the trash.  But at least I started somewhere and I can tell you that now I am much more consistent about showing appreciation.  But I had to take that first step.

6. Reflect.  You can do this in any form you like. Maybe in a journal, meditating or brushing your teeth.  How are you doing?  Do you feel like you are making strides?  Are you getting positive feedback?  Are you getting less negative feedback?  Maybe you were selected for the next ad hoc committee. Maybe you didn’t overreact when you ended up getting off at the wrong exit.  Congratulate yourself.  You are on your way.

What would you do?


This is my 13th blog post and I have the fear of the number 13; hence the title. Ironically, it’s my daughter’s favorite number. There is a hyper-delicate balance between rational and irrational fear.  This is easily explained by example:  there is the well-founded fear of standing-in-the-middle-of-a-field-with-an-umbrella-in-a-thunderstorm fear.  On the flip side there is the fear that the cockroach skittering on the floor will somehow approach and harm you.  I suffer from both.  I am the biggest wuss in my house.  Ask my kids. They will be happy to back this up.

In Galvin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, the case is made that some fear is innate.  Fear can save your life as he shows in an example in the book.  The simple act of an attacker closing a window as he leaves his victim behind in the room and, intuitively, the victim realizes that if she doesn’t get out of there, she will be a murder victim.  She does and lives to tell about it.

There is the completely neurotic fear that my dog, Baci, suffers from.  She won’t step on a different surface.  New hardwood, tile, slate or plywood.  She will not step over it, onto it or around it.  She is paralyzed.  It seems so irrational but there must be something to this paralysis.  Did she step onto some surface in her puppydom that caused this irrational fear?

So now what? How do you conquer fear?

1.  Check First.  Is this rational? What are you basing this on?  Is the cockroach really going to attack you? When did you last read the headline – “Mother Killed By Palmetto Bug.”  Think about this in relation to YOU – Would applying for that new position mean you would lose your current job? Nah.  Face it, most decisions you make are not catastrophic.  But investigating what your fear is based on is important; especially when it comes to your future in the workplace.

2. Research.  I find that researching all available scenarios helps.  If you are looking for a new job, maybe this means looking down avenues you would typically not consider.  Maybe you would be willing to move or adding an extra 30 minutes to your commute. Maybe look at a different industry.  Baci is constantly testing the waters;  especially if there is a desirable tennis ball in the middle of the piece of plywood. Doing the research makes it easier for her to take the next step.

3. Test. Take a step. Go grab your slipper from the other room. At least you’ll be prepared to smack that cockroach. Call a friend you know in the industry you might want to move to and ask what opportunities are available.  Baci starts by putting out a paw and then retreating.  She’s testing her hypothesis.  You are going to have to test the waters.  Start writing the blog even if you don’t finish it in the first pass.

4.  Scared. Sometimes you just have to do it scared.  Actually, you frequently have to do it scared. My husband and I were watching the gymnastic trails last week.  There was Danell Leyva on the high bar, flying high above the bar in some kind of back flip. I turned to Kevin and said, “So how do you try that the first time?” We laughed. But you have to.  I can promise you Levya, was at least a little bit scared the first time he let go of that bar to launch himself 25 feet above the ground. You really don’t want to fail at that the first time out –  watch it here. Do it scared.

5. Pathways. You are going to need to lay some new neural pathways.  Charles Duhigg compares them to ruts in the mud. It’s really difficult to change ruts. The only way is to start working on it.  This is extremely hard for me. Take a breath, regroup and lay down a new rut.

My dog Baci is amazing at this. First, she is paralyzed by the new hardwood floor in the dining room. She won’t set a paw on the floor. But her favorite window for squirrel hunting is only three feet away…across the new surface. She runs around to all the entrances to check that the new surface is everywhere. She looks at my husband to be assured that the new surface is safe.  Sniffs.  Tests it with her paw.  Retreats.  It may take an hour or three days, but eventually she is trotting up to her favorite spot staring out the window, standing proudly on the new hardwood floor.  She’s laying new neural pathways.

How about you?

The Big Lie

In addition to being a recovering interrupter, I am also a recovering multitasker.  There was a time, about 15 years ago, when I was a commuter in Northern California, in which I would apply makeup, drink a Venti Mocha, talk on my cell phone AND drive my car between Windsor and Petaluma.   Not too good.  I was under the delusion that I was getting so much accomplished – that I was Super Woman.

As technology exploded in the 90s, there was the imperative to keep 10 balls in the air at one time, and it hasn’t stopped. Dr. David Rock has busted the multitasking myth with his book “Your Brain at Work.” In the book he compares your frontal cortex which is the size of a postage stamp and where you make all your decisions, to a stage in a theater.  And this stage is not the size of Madison Square Garden or even Carnegie Hall.  It’s more like a puppet theater with room for about three hand puppets max.  In Dr. Rock’s analogy, your frontal cortex is being bombarded with actors trying to get on stage.  And the more actors you have on stage, the more your decision-making diminishes.  For each additional task (actor) on stage, the more your performance drops.

Christine Rosen, who wrote the article “The Myth of Multitasking,” agrees with Dr. Rock and says that the result of multitasking is a 10-point drop in IQ or twice the drop as for marijuana users. And we all know that multitasking while driving (you know, like applying make up and talking on your cell phone) is worse than drunk driving.  Tsk, Tsk.

So here are a few steps to bring us back on the road to monotasking:

1. Clear. As in clear all the clutter. I have been letting my magazine subscriptions lapse.  I don’t get the local newspaper anymore.  Set the timer and take 10 minutes to clean out your kitchen junk drawer, your closet or your car.  De-cluttered means less distractions.

2. List.  Close your office door and make a list.  Do a brain dump of everything you want or might want to get done takes a lot of actors out the mix and off your “stage.” If I’m in class and just remembered I need shampoo from the store, that bottle of shampoo is going to sit on my stage (maybe) and trip up my other actors.  Do a brain dump to get it off the stage.  Or better yet, get Wunderlist (a wonderful free app for making and organizing task lists) and put it on your grocery list.

3. Focus. This is the hard part.  Pay attention to the task at hand.  If you are on a conference call and start going through your email; you are not listening.  You are reading email.  If reading email is more important, then hang up the phone.  If the conference call is more important, then shut down the email.  You are going to have to start making choices.  So choose.

4. No.  You’re going to have to do it.  Turn off the TV.  Send it to voice mail.  Don’t go to the conference.  Get off the committee.  I can see you rolling your eyes but it’s true.  Just because you can check email 24/7 doesn’t mean you have to.  The world will still be there tomorrow.  Just say NO.

5. Imperfection.  Do it imperfectly at first.  It’s OK.  It’s fine if you back slide a little.  Small messy steps are more important than no steps.  There is going to be that phone call you were waiting for as you’re driving north on 101.  Maybe you can pull over and take it.  Maybe you can explain and call them back later.  Don’t beat yourself up.

The fact that you’re aware and trying will help you make more effective and smarter decisions.  Sometimes a shampoo bottle will come rolling onto the stage.  It’s OK.

Are you putting your best cast on the stage or is it full of shampoo bottles?