Corporate Life and Personal Health – Is it a Trade-off?

Some time ago, my husband forwarded the following article to me: Half of Millenials and 75% of Gen Zers have left their jobs for mental health issues. The article details a couple reasons they believe this is happening, including increased use of smartphones which decreases face-to-face interactions and increases exposure to negative world events, and an increase in younger folks feeling of being lost.

This came up in our conversation because I had been noticing a trend in my research project. As I spoke to more and more women, I was hearing story after story of women feeling compelled to leave corporate America in order to take control of their health.

The stories I heard were not only to do with mental health; sometimes physical health was the major issue at hand. Regardless, these women did not feel there was a way to solve their individual issues while maintaining their careers. At least, not the way they were going.

I want to be clear – most of these women did not blame their work, their corporate environment, or anything else of that nature. Most often, they took their inability to manage their current health situation on themselves.

One woman, diagnosed with fibromyalgia while at work, described herself as addicted to work. She shared stories of working at all hours of the day, never being off the clock, taking laptop and phone with her on vacations. She was simply unable to stop working, and this was having a negative effect on her ability to deal with her new diagnosis.

She did not necessarily feel that her work demanded this kind of attention from her. In fact, she was sometimes encouraged to take time off, to relax, to not work quite so hard.

Another woman shared a similar story. She was suffering from crippling anxiety, and yet kept pushing and pushing herself at work. In fact, she was working so hard, she was unable to see to the (negative) effect it was having on her work, and in the end was asked to leave a company where previously she had been a fast-tracked star.

Other phrases I have heard: “If I didn’t leave, I was going to lose my mind.” “My health was suffering significantly. If I didn’t change something quick, something bad was going to happen.” “I know I needed to take care of myself, and I just couldn’t figure out how to do that.”

Another woman brought to my attention the idea and research theme of corporate PTSD, or as one author calls it, CTSD (Corporate Traumatic Stress Disorder). If you get a chance, look it up. It explains why, among many other things, so many people pass away so quickly after retirement.

What in the world is going on here? I have been in the same situation myself – this is what prompted me to write the blog post Why You Workaholics Should Go Home and Take The Day Off! I was feeling the same types of stress.

While any particular manager may not be asking us to work around the clock (although I have known managers who do – one in particular was notable for saying, “The REAL work doesn’t start until 6pm!”), it must be something in the corporate culture that is asking us to sacrifice in this way.

I realize this is not something particular to women, although I do worry that it might be affecting us to a greater extent. I explored some of the reasons for this recently in my post on the lack of female mentors – successful women have a hard time saying “no.”

It must be that this kind of behavior is rewarded. I know I had a boss at one point who judged everyone on “face time” – or the amount of time they spent in the office. At the very least, he judged people negatively if they weren’t around when he went looking for them. It is fortunate for us all that he retired before we introduced the work-from-home policy!

So how do we fix this? I think all of the corporate HR programs that support mental and physical health are a start. We need to have confidential ways to deal with the stress and anxiety any job can give us. Health insurance incentives to address weight, blood pressure, blood sugar issues can help.

But these will only go so far. What companies really need to do is to change their culture. We need to stop rewarding people for “face time” (I mean really, are people actually more productive just because they are in the office longer? I think not). We need to see our employees as the valuable resources they are, and care about their health as much as their families do.

Only by changing the culture, by rewarding behavior that brings long-term results, will we build companies of physically and mentally strong employees who are willing to help us succeed.

What do think is the cause? How do we change this culture? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave them here on the blog or wherever you might be reading this.

And as always, keep it positive!

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Boundaryless careers

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘boundaryless’ career?

Perhaps you imagine a special kind of career that defies definition. A career that spans all functions and facets of a business.

Maybe you thought of a career that could take off in any direction, as if the future were going to be without bounds.

Or maybe your mind takes a cynical turn and you thought of theq all-access (boundaryless) careers we have – email, mobile phone, laptop access 24-7.

Turns out that researchers were thinking of something different.

Social scientists give us this definition:

moving away from one single, externally determined view which defined what a good career is”

From Lips-Wiersma, M, McMorland, J. (2006) “Finding meaning and purpose in boundaryless careers: A framework for study and practice.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 46(2), 147-167.

In other words, a boundaryless career is one that is not concerned with climbing a specific career ladder, but is more concerned with ‘the individual’s experience of the career unfolding.’ In otherwords, a boundaryless career is a non-linear career path.

Boundaryless careers ask individuals to take responsibility for their career paths instead of the corporations that employ them. Traditional careers assume the corporation will move individuals up the ladder and reward employees with increased pay as they work hard and accomplish goals. Boundaryless careers are more concerned with meaning and purpose than with simply climbing a ladder.

My guess is that the idea of a lifetime career not being about climbing a ladder and instead about realizing a larger purpose initially strikes people differently based on their generation. My father (a baby boomer) joined a company fully expecting to work there until he retired. When that didn’t work out, he moved to another company expecting much the same thing. And then when again that did not work out, he went to work for himself, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

I (proudly generation X) personally did not expect to work at the same place for more than a few years before going someplace new. I’m not sure why, but I think my generation was told that we would never be happy in one place for long. I proved them wrong, along with many others of my generation, staying at the same company for 17 years and not leaving by my own choosing. Now, however, given the opportunity to explore possibilities in life and work, I find myself deeply drawn to the boundaryless career idea. I now want my work to be grounded in purpose and meaning.

As for the generations behind me, they were supposed to be the generation that put purpose and fulfillment ahead of any other career ambitions. Yet, in my time in corporate America, I saw a pattern much like mine. I saw the desire not to get stuck, and yet person after person sticking around long after any happiness they had in their position had been sucked out of them.

So although the idea might strike the generations differently initially – the Baby Boomers see a boundaryless career as their rewards after a long time spent slogging away in the corporate jungle, the Generation Xers as an idea that comes after disappointment and heartache, and the Millenials as the way it should have been anyway – it seems to me that we all come around to the idea that work would be much more satisfying and worthwhile if it were more focused on our purpose and brought meaning to our lives.

Now the question is: how do we find and/or build these boundaryless careers? How do we free ourselves of the notion of being ‘stuck’? How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives without having to relegate it to time spent outside of work?

These are great questions, and unfortunately there aren’t any easy answers. To reach these goals in life, it takes a great deal of self-awareness and introspection. I’ll give you some questions to start with below. At the same time, I’ll let you in on a secret – The short-cut is to get yourself a coach who will help guide you through this. (I can help with this!)

Here are some questions to ask yourself that may help you build your own boundaryless career:

  1. What brings you meaning? Write down your answers. Ask yourself this question over and over, answering from different perspectives (work, home, school, community, etc.) until you run out of ideas.
  2. What are your values? Write them down, then go back and circle the 3 most important. Why are these important to you? What do they look like in real life?
  3. If you were guaranteed not to fail, what would you do right now? What would happen if you failed?
  4. What is it that is keeping you from following your dreams? What would it take to allow you this freedom?

If you are moved by the idea of the boundaryless career, and want some help finding your own, I would love to help! Give me a call, leave a comment, or send me an email.

Happy Anniversary

A Year in Review

Normally we think of anniversaries as a time of celebration. Weddings, birthdays, and work anniversaries give us a chance to celebrate another year of accomplishment and (presumably) happiness.

Sometimes we celebrate the anniversaries of terrible events. Whether it is the loss of a loved one or a catastrophic event, an anniversary can bring up difficult emotions and feelings.

Regardless of whether it is a happy or sad event, an anniversary gives us a chance to reflect on something important that has happened in our lives. It is an opportunity to revisit what happened, how it impacted us (whether positively or negatively), and to consider how the passage of time has changed us. It often is a time to thoughtfully consider how we continue to move forward.

One year ago today (this seems unbelievable), I was laid off from my company of 17 years along with 300+ of my colleagues. So to myself and to all of my friends I say

Happy Anniversary.

As I sit and reflect today, I find that I am still struggling to determine whether this was a happy event or a sad event in my life. It certainly has qualities of both.

I am sad because I miss my colleagues. I miss the company where I dedicated 17 years of my life, and I miss the certainty of having a job to go to every morning and a paycheck arriving in my bank account every month. I miss being surrounded by amazing people every single day. I am sad to be detached from an industry I came to love.

On the other side of things, I am so happy about the opportunities I have had since then. I have quite a list that I am going to share here, none of which involve a traditional job. My hope is this will offer some encouragement to others still struggling to land.

I started my own business: The HUB Leadership Consulting Group. As part of this, I have worked with some amazing clients as a career coach. I have done quite a bit of public speaking (coming up next: WiBN Leadership Conference), and I have written 20+ blog posts. I would never have done all of this had I still been working at my previous company.

Through the work with my company, I have come to realize how important diversity is to my mission in life. No matter where I land or who I work for, the desire to continue learning and helping others to learn about critical diversity issues will always be a part of what I do.

I have built my network in all directions. I have met some absolutely amazing women and men all the way from Dayton to Northern Kentucky and across the country. Many of them I now call friends. We meet for coffee, lunch, or attend events together, or connect by phone or through social media. Regardless of when and where we meet, we support, encourage, and inspire each other. I am eternally grateful for these connections!

I have been back on stage, now working on my third show this year. This is one of the most incredible things to me – it seems unbelievable that it took leaving my corporate position for me to feel comfortable getting back on the stage. I believe that no matter where I end up, I will now always keep some connection to this part of my life.

I spent some important quality time with my kids this summer. I will admit, I was pretty scared to spend the entire summer at home with these guys. Having never been a stay-at-home mom, throwing me in the deep end with two teenage boys and a preteen girl seemed downright crazy. Turns out I loved it. I absolutely loved spending time with these spectacular individuals, and the time flew by.

I opened an Etsy shop! I take any anxiety I am feeling over my job search and at the end of the day, channel it into my knitting needles and crochet hooks. And now I sell my creations! This also allows me to share my hobby with my Mom, who also creates items for our shop. We have fun, and I am fairly certain we never would have taken this step if I hadn’t had this freedom to dream.

I know most of my colleagues have landed somewhere new. Some of us, however, are still out here searching. I will admit that I am rather shocked to find myself in that second category. That said, I will continue on my journey, will keep my head up, will continue to stretch myself and grow and do things that scare me. I’ll continue to support those around me and will allow them to support me.

And as always, I will stay positive. You do the same! Happy Anniversary.

“Learning diversity” – Using Fiction as a Tool

As a white woman who grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago I was not exposed to much in the way of diversity throughout my youth. Every so often, a church mission trip would take us places that seemed utterly foreign to me as if we had traveled to a different planet. But these were places that existed ‘elsewhere.’ They were not a part of my world.

One experience in childhood, however, did open my eyes to the fact that others did not enjoy the same privilege I enjoyed. My grandparents took me on a vacation to Mexico, ostensibly to see the amazing tourist attractions – the pyramids, the beaches, the fancy hotels. Instead, what I saw, what I remember as a jolt of electricity in my belly, was women sitting on the streets with their babies. When I asked Grandma why this was, she explained matter-of-factly that they didn’t have a home to go to.

Even college offered me little in the way of exposure to people different from me. In my small, midwestern, academically elite school I rarely had cause to think of experiences beyond my own. I do remember one choir trip to the South where we attended a Southern Baptist church service. I remember the incredible and unbounded joy expressed during this service – out loud! And realized again that my experiences were not universal.

All of this to say, I have had to work hard to “learn diversity.” It has become a passion for me, and I have been taking up any opportunity I can find to learn. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading, attending seminars, participating in conversations and discussions. And every so often, it can get overwhelming. I need a break.

For me, that means reading. Usually cozy mysteries. Always fiction. This time, I decided I would try something different. I went to my library app and searched under popular fiction and the first book I could find that was available right away has led me on a whole new journey. I have now overloaded my library holds with books written from perspectives that differ widely from mine. For now, I am sticking to the ‘female’ perspective (in quotes because the meaning of that word is also under exploration), to contemporary fiction, and if at all possible, to American fiction. I feel like this is where I need to start.

The two books I will share below are simply where I have started. I know there are many, many options out there, and I’d love to hear from you what fiction books have opened your eyes to new ways of understanding this world we live in.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

The first book I read was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Not only is this a beautifully written book, it is captivating and such a great read. The story makes personal the bullet points we see in every diversity presentation – the incarceration of black people, especially men, is disproportionally high. In this case, a black man who we know, without doubt, is innocent is sent to jail for committing rape.

The story follows the lives most affected by this conviction – the man himself, his wife, and their best friend. We also hear about the parents of both the husband and the wife and their struggles to deal with this tragedy.

The story is so compelling because it feels so real. It feels like a ‘ripped from the headlines’ story. I felt as though the author allowed me, for the hours it took to read the book, to understand and feel what the impact of this injustice can do to real people. It literally derailed a life, tore apart a marriage, and caused stress, confusion, and chaos in the lives of so many peopled.

The story helped me to get inside the reality of what is happening to so many people, people different from me, in our society today. It helped me to see beyond the bullet point on the PowerPoint slide and to feel the pain of individuals who are faced with this kind of injustice.

I highly encourage everyone to read this book.

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

My choices of book to read are dictated by the availability at the public library. That said, I am very pleased that the next book to pop into my queue was Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner. While not a tale of racial diversity, I was pleasantly surprised by the differences introduced by the fact that the family was Jewish, that one of the women was a lesbian, and that the other was childfree by choice.

This story follows the lives of two sisters who’s stories alternate as they move through time, the major events of the decades passing by in the background. As time progresses, the lose themselves, then find themselves again several times, in various ways.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot – I’d love for those reading the book to experience the empathy as these two sisters follow their journey – sometimes experiencing incredible pain, other times overwhelming joy. Suffice it to say, I learned quite a bit from these two characters.

I felt through the story the pain of having to suppress significant parts of your identity simply to fit in, to be seen as “normal.” I learned the difficulties behind the healing after significant personal tragedy. I saw a world where women faced the difficulties of trying to get ahead in a male dominated world decades before the present day.

This book only offers small windows into these different experiences women might face in their lives, and yet it is so well written that you feel strong empathy with each passing challenge the sisters face. I am grateful to have had a peak into this window, and hope it helps me to act with even greater empathy towards others.

……

Fiction gives the authors the latitude to fully explore issues of diversity, to provide a different vantage point to explore the amazing things that make each of us unique. I know I have read many books of this type before – I simply chose these two books because of the incredible quality of writing and because I happened to have read them recently.

What fiction books have you read that have opened your eyes to a new way of thinking about your neighbor? I’d love some suggestions!

As always, stay positive! Pass along a smile!

Women in the Workplace – Lack of Fit

This post is going to require some work on your part. Don’t worry, it won’t be difficult. But before moving on, I’d ask that you open a blank Word document or grab a pen and paper before you read on.

Your first assignment: Picture a CEO. Jot down some of your thoughts regarding the image in your mind. Just a few sentences or adjectives will do. DO NOT overthink this, just go with your first impression. We’ll get back to this later.

Now for a story. Have you heard this? Its an oldie-but-goodie. A man and his son are out one night, driving along a dark, winding road when suddenly a major storm moves in. A deer jumps out of the woods in front of their car, and the father, in an attempt to avoid the deer, swerves and smashes into a tree. The emergency personnel rush to the accident and tragically pronounce the father dead at the scene. The young boy, badly injured, is rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. As he is wheeled into the operating room, the surgeon looks down at the young patient and exclaims, “I cannot operate on this boy. He is my son!”

How can this be? If you are like most people, the first time you heard this story you were confused. Didn’t the dad die at the scene? Does the boy have two dads? No. In fact, the surgeon is the child’s mother.

Why is it that our instinct is to assume that the surgeon is a man?

Back in 1973, an astute social scientist named Virginia Schein was asking questions about why more women were not being promoted into leadership roles. At that time, Dr. Schein worked as a manager for MetLife in New York. The prevailing answer to her question at the time was that women simply did not wish to be leaders. Dr. Schein believed there was more going on below the surface.

In a series of research papers published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Dr. Schein asked research participants to list the most important traits of a successful leader.

Go ahead and do this for yourself. You can simply add to the CEO traits you listed above, or if ‘Leader’ brings to mind something new and different, make a new list.

Next, she asked participants to list the most common traits associated with men.

Do this yourself as well.

Then, she asked participants to list the most common traits associated with women.

Again, jot some ideas down.

Finally, she compared the lists. What she found uncovered an uncomfortable truth – the list of the leadership traits and the male traits were very similar, while the list of the leadership traits and the female traits varied significantly. This led to the ‘Think Manager-Think Male’ theory that has been proven in many studies since then.

One of the interesting parts of the initial research – all of the participants were men. Likely she had a problem similar to the one I faced in my attempt to include women of color in my studies – she just could not find enough female leaders to include in her studies.

But it does highlight another problem – the dominant culture will be the group to define the rules of the game. Research seems to indicate that it isn’t that male qualities are the best leadership qualities, but that since men are in leadership, they will necessarily believe that their qualities make for the best results.

Opinions on the “best” leadership qualities have changed since the 1970s. Back then, words like commanding, or assertive, or even aggressive were common. Nowadays, you likely included something along the lines of collaborative, or even supportive, or perhaps even inclusive.

And yet, even with leadership qualities that are more aligned with the female stereotype, I’d ask you to look back at your description of a CEO. Did you picture a man or a woman? Some of you did, in fact, picture a woman, and you are wonderful for that. Most people, however, pictured a tall, white, older male. If you did, don’t worry – you’ve just uncovered a hidden bias! Now you can work on adjusting it.

The impact of the ‘Think-Manager, Think-Male’ phenomenon is significant. It means that when company leaders are looking to fill a management position, their inherent bias toward picturing men in the position will lead them toward male candidates more readily than female candidates. This is true no matter the gender of the hiring manager.

It means that men will be considered for roles they aspire to while women will only be considered for roles they have already proven themselves in. It means that men will be supported despite failures and a woman’s failure will be seen as inevitable.

The solution to this issue is a catch-22. To get more women (or any other minority, for that matter) into leadership roles we need more women (or other minorities) in leadership roles. If the images we see when the letters CEO are uttered are not just white males, but truly reflect the diversity of our society, then we will disrupt the ‘Think Manager-Think Male’ paradigm. To get there, we need to recognize our inherent biases and actively work against them. When choosing our leaders, we need to ensure we are intentionally looking in all directions for the best candidate, regardless of their personal qualities.

For a final assignment, I encourage you to consider ways in which you might stretch your mind when considering candidates for the next leadership role you will help to fill. Write them down. And then when the time comes, use them.

As always, keep it positive!

Selected further reading:

HBR – Alice Eagly: Women as Leaders. Dr. Eagly is an expert on gender and leadership.

Fast Company – The Gender Divide

Psychology Today: Why Women Make Better Leaders than Men

Inc. Magazine: 7 Traits of True Leaders

Leadership Lessons from the Theater

James and the Giant Peach – Bart’s Bards 2019

I have been having some fun while continuing my job search and slowly but surely putting my consulting business into place. Sometime late last year I made the decision to audition for the theater. It might have been the best decision I have made in the last many months.

We have a super high-quality community theater just down the road from our home and since I am always looking for ways to scare myself, to reach outside my comfort zone, this seemed like a perfect idea. My goal was simply to do the very best I could at the audition. Honestly. I had no true expectation of being cast. I had been out of the theater for at least 15 years. I simply wanted to strap on the tap shoes and go out there and give it my all.

Imagine my surprise when I was cast! I had an amazing time doing the show, met some incredible people, and reaffirmed my personal love for the stage. After that show I did another, and am now collaborating on a youth summer production. My heart is happy when it is in a theater.

Given that I am now spending so much time there, I have had the opportunity to reflect on what it takes to put on a full musical theater production. It is amazing! And truly, it takes leadership at all levels.

I now believe it would be an incredibly powerful exercise to have leaders go through the process of producing some type of live event. There are significant leadership lessons at every step for those in corporate America.

Here are some examples from both on stage and behind the scenes:

Actors: These folks are clearly necessary for a show to go on. Whether they play the leads or are part of the ensemble, there is no show without actors. Imagine the situations they are faced with:

  1. Personal responsibility. There is very little help on stage when lines, blocking (where they move, stand, etc), song lyrics, choreography is forgotten. It is all up to you.
  2. Crisis management. Sometimes your co-star will forget their lines and you have to help cover. Sometimes your costume rips right before you are to go on stage. Sometimes the microphone battery dies right in the middle of your song, or a prop is missing, or the lights don’t come up when you expect them. You have to deal with all of these potential situations.
  3. Communication. As an actor, it is your responsibility to deliver the story. Do it well and the audience comes away inspired and entertained. Fail, and the efforts put forth by everyone involved in the production are for naught.

Crew: The crew is made up of the folks handling the lights, the sound, the props, and moving the scenery during the show, among many, many other things. These folks bring the story to life. Some situations they deal with, many of which are similar to those of the actors:

  1. Personal Responsibility: These folks, and there are rarely enough of them, have to move fast and have to know exactly what they are doing. If someone has to move a piece of furniture, it is up to them to move it. Quickly. Exactly. No one is there to help (they are busy moving other things).
  2. Team Work: Often the crew has to work together to pull off intricate changes in scenery, props or lighting. There has to be a high level of trust on the team to get the whole job done.
  3. Crisis Management: When the batteries of a mic run out, or the spotlighter suddenly calls in sick, or the stage wall that is supposed to open suddenly gets stuck, it lands on the shoulders of the crew to handle it. There is no one to call, no one to hand the problem off to.

Costumer/Hair/Make-up/Props: These folks own their own fiefdoms under the direction of the director. They are all behind the scenes, but their work has a significant impact on the outcome of the show. They deal with:

  1. Limited Resources: These folks have to make the most out of everything they have. A good friend of mine spent money for some expensive fabric for one show exclaiming that she would find a way to use that fabric in every show to follow. And she has! The Props professionals (in community theater certainly) source all of their needs from donations, thrift shop finds, and creative reuses from past shows.
  2. Conflict Management: I can’t tell you how many times, as an actor, as a costumer, as a bystander, I have dealt with conflict over costumes, hair, and make-up. One child wouldn’t go on stage because her “makeup wasn’t as pretty as everyone elses.” In another case, an actor was furious about her wig. Or an actor refused to wear the hat.
  3. Crisis Management: In the last show I worked on, an actor walked right into a tube of red lipstick right before she was to go on stage. It took quick thinking to grab a stole from the back and whip it over her head to hide the stain as she rushed on. Pants rip, suspenders snap, shoes get lost….backstage can become a near war zone during some shows!

Producer/Director/Coreographer/Designers: These are the folks that make up the official leadership of the show. Their challenges are rather clear:

  1. Setting the vision: The director is charged with providing the vision, and the producer and others for supporting that vision and helping to communicate it to the cast and crew.
  2. Creating the culture: Each show has its own vibe. Some shows are packed with more drama behind the scenes than in front of them, and some are extremely uplifting. This can be largely attributed to the culture created by the show leadership. I have been very fortunate to have been involved in the latter in nearly every case, but have heard plenty of horror stories about the former.
  3. Decision making: This oh-so-important quality comes in spades for these folks. From casting the show to determining the look and feel of the stage to the rehearsal schedule and everything in between, these folks are making and communicating hundreds (if not thousands) of decisions before the show opens its curtains.

Pulling off a live production is a monumental feat. It calls for leaders at all levels to do their very best. It challenges each participant, whether on the stage, offstage, or behind the scenes, to exercise their leadership muscles.

It seems to me, every corporation might do well to produce a live show. It would certainly throw many people outside their comfort zone, would help to grow some very necessary leadership skills, and might even expose some leadership gaps that can then be corrected!

It also goes to show that leadership lessons can be found everywhere. As they say in the theater, The Show Must Go On!

As always, keep it positive, and share a smile if you’ve got one!

Leaders and Feedback – How to Get it and How to Give It


I was chatting with a colleague the other day, and the subject of feedback came up. She mentioned to me the difficulty she was having in getting meaningful feedback from her management. She felt that she was doing a good job at work, but like most of us, she wanted to improve. Feedback would certainly help!

In another conversation, an HR leader I spoke with mentioned the same problem but from a different perspective. She was bemoaning the fact that her managers were bringing her situations where employees needed to be terminated, and yet there was no evidence (or at least not enough evidence) of feedback being given from the manager to the employee leading up to the desire for termination.

It has also been noted in studies and in my own experience that when the Millennial generation joined the workforce, feedback was desired at a level not yet seen in the workplace. Where annual reviews had been accepted as the norm, this new generation demanded almost daily input into their work. I know I looked for it, and many of my employees demanded it.

So why is it still so difficult to give and to get feedback? Three issues that come up:

  • Growth in technology inhibits casual conversation
  • The business of our calendars
  • Feedback takes time and the value is realized over time

With the growth in technology we have seen an increase in the number of employees working from home or from alternate locations. This makes communication more difficult than in the past when you could simply stop by a manager’s or employee’s desk for a quick chat. Or catch up with someone in the hallway. Communication now must be intentional.

Also we are all so busy! How many times have you asked, “How are you?” and heard the answer, “Busy!” We just don’t have time to stop and have these conversations when there are 6 fires that need our immediate attention. I once had a manager tell me, “I don’t have time to sit down and talk to him because I am too busy cleaning up all of his messes.” (See this post on why it is important to take the time now to gain the time in the future).

In addition, it can be difficult for managers to see the value in having a conversation when it does not immediately impact their current situation. I’ve heard managers say, “If they are doing their job, I don’t need to interfere or distract,” or “I’ll let them know if they screw something up,” or even “I don’t want to be a micromanager. They should know if they are doing a good job or not.”

To be honest, I often told my leaders that I liked to manage by exception. I told them I would praise them if they did something amazing and would call them out if they did something terrible, but otherwise I would keep out of their way. I said that, and yet I still gave regular feedback. We met regularly, we planned for their futures. We discussed their strengths and their weaknesses. We strategized and we dreamed. We also vented when necessary. This was all a critical part of their development as leaders.

Those of you in a position to give feedback should remember that the best way for you to be successful is for those under you to be successful. Focusing on their growth and development is a great way to help them succeed and in turn to help you succeed.

So here are some tips, first for those of us seeking feedback from others:

  • Schedule regular meetings with your manager. These can be as short as 15 minutes a week if you have a busy manager. Setting a consistent schedule for feedback and putting it on the calendar creates the formal space for this kind of communication.
  • Ask for specific feedback. Don’t ask questions like, “How do you think I am doing?” This is difficult to answer, and it will be hard for your manager to give you anything you can work with. Instead, after a meeting ask “How do you think I handled that meeting?” or after submitting a report, “How did you feel I handled that ambiguous data?” Asking about your performance on a specific task is much more likely to get you actionable feedback.
  • Understand your manager and her particular style. Manage up. Pay attention to the signals she is giving. If you stop by her office daily to ask, “How do you think I did today?” and you notice her rolling her eyes, switch tactics. Find something that works for both of you.
  • Think critically when deciding who to ask for feedback. Be sure (or as sure as you can) that the feedback you will get will be constructive and not destructive. I learned early in my career that the definition of “constructive” can vary widely amongst managers.
  • When you get feedback, remember that it has as much to do with the person giving it as it does with your specific performance. Take the feedback, but keep in mind the agenda of the person giving the feedback. There is always something to learn from every bit of feedback you receive – it just might not be exactly what you were looking for.
  • Some advice for those giving feedback:

    • Schedule regular meetings with your staff for the specific purpose of providing feedback. These can be as short as 15 minutes each week. They can be by phone or Skype, but get them on the calendar. I normally met with my managers formally for an hour every two weeks, although we had regular daily interactions as well. Don’t cloud the meetings with fire-fighting. Instead be intentional about that 15 minutes and stick to feedback and employee growth topics.
    • Have the difficult conversations. Don’t wait. Make the time. A quick conversation now can alleviate a long, drawn-out processes later.
    • Praise your employees. As often as you can. Look for ways to do this regularly. This gives you more credibility when you have to have those tough conversations.
    • BE CONSTRUCTIVE. Focus your conversation on behaviors and results, and never on personal characteristics. I was once told that I was a “monster.” Tell me what I was supposed to do with that?
    • Seek outside validation if you need to give highly critical feedback. Be sure that you are seeing the whole picture.
    • Listen. Feedback is not just the manager speaking to the employee. It should be an exchange of ideas between two people attempting to reach the same goal.
    • Be open about your expectations and your personal style. Help your employees to interact with you as efficiently and effectively as possible.

    Feedback is an important part of the success of your company. Keep at it, and see what wonderful things come!

    What other tips do you have for providing/accepting feedback? I’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment here on the blog or shoot me an email!

    As always, keep it positive!

    Job Seekers Beware – Not All Advice is Good Advice

    Some advice may not be as good as it sounds

    I have now been in the hunt for my next big opportunity for over six months. In that time, I have had the chance to try many different methods of searching.

    I have applied to positions online. Contrary to popular opinion, I have found success with this method. I’ve had many interviews that resulted simply from submitting an application. And another little secret – I don’t often include a cover letter. My experience in the corporate world says that cover letters are used as a method of eliminating candidates more than anything else. See a typo? See a strangely phrased sentence, or a over-the-top assertion? Eliminate that candidate!

    I have “worked my network,” or put another way, I have been to every coffee shop within a 60 mile radius. I love this method of job searching. It gives you the chance to meet with people one-on-one, to practice describing what you are looking for, and a chance to learn about all kinds of new things. Plus, it is proof over and over again that good people do exist and that they genuinely want to help. This is the method most often recommended to job seekers. This morning I heard a statistic that says 70% of positions are found using this method.

    I have gone to networking meetings. Many of these have been geared toward job seekers and others are groups I belong to or have some close connection to. Most of the job-seeker networking meetings have an invited speaker, and this is the topic of this blog post.

    Let me start with this – everyone who helps those of us in need is doing so from the goodness of their hearts. I believe this from the bottom of my heart. Most of what they have to share is good advice for someone, but what is important to remember, is that it is not always good advice for everyone.

    It is essential that those of us listening to this advice keep a critical ear toward what we are being told. The results of not doing so, I firmly believe, could be significant damage to an individual’s search.

    Here are two examples of good advice that needs some additional scrutiny:

    1. Your focus should be on how you come across as a person.

    This advice was given in a workshop on how to get more interviews. On the face of it, I would say it is sound advice. Give it a little thought, however, and you might come to the conclusion that the whole reason you are not getting interviews is because of some fatal flaw in your personality.

    For some folks, I suppose, this might be true. But honestly, if you are changing yourself just for your interview, are you likely to be successful in the position? If you can’t be authentic in the interview, are you likely to feel comfortable being authentic at that workplace?

    Even more important, this would indicate that the entire reason you are not getting interviews is your fault! This is dangerous waters for a job searcher. The entire system of job searching is complicated and full of unwritten, inscrutable rules that we may never understand. If we begin to feel that we are the problem, we are likely to become downtrodden and depressed.

    It is critical that we keep an arms length from rejection during this process. Learn from it, and move on. Do not internalize it.

    2. Before applying for a job, do all the research you can think to do.

    This was at another job-search meeting. The speaker was suggesting that before submitting an application, we research LinkedIn, news stories, financials, anything we can get our hands on.

    Again, solid advice, maybe. Checking LinkedIn will give you an idea of whether or not you have a first degree or second degree connection in your network. It will help you identify who is in leadership at the target company. This helps you get a better idea of what the culture might be at the company. You can also reach out to those leaders and perhaps network ahead of submitting the application.

    Searching news stories helps you contextualize what the current status is of the company – what problems you might be able to help solve, or what situations you might want to avoid completely.

    The problem with this advice? If you have to do all of this research before submitting an application, how likely are you to ever apply? And as the saying might be rephrased, you’ll miss 100% of the jobs you never apply for.

    This advice is particularly dangerous for women who already put themselves at a disadvantage when applying for jobs or promotions. Research shows that women only apply when they feel they are 100% qualified for a position. Imagine how much information they might find in this type of research to dissuade them from applying.

    My thought – submit the application. Then start the research. And only do what is necessary up front. Find the connections and reach out. But don’t worry about the rest until you have an interview. Time is absolutely precious during this process – don’t waste it.

    There is so much advice out there. This is only two examples of how good advice can cause trouble in the job search. Be careful, be skeptical, stay positive, and take care of yourself! Know that you are worthy, and that everyone out there wants to see you succeed.

    Keep it positive!


    Next-level Diversity – 6 Ideas for What Companies Can Do Next

    Diversity can be a puzzling issue to deal with. Even defining what diversity means can be problematic and fraught with missteps, over-simplifications, and mistakes. Lately, I have heard many business leaders describe the diversity they seek as “differences not just in the obvious ways, but also diversity of background, experience, perspective, all of those types of things.”

    I have been doing a heavy load of interviewing as I am currently in a job search. I always ask the question (because it is important to me) about diversity in the workplace. Most companies, after using the quote above, will then point me to their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and will occasionally share the names of some senior level individuals who are African-American or female. 

    None of this is bad. In fact, the many accomplishments these ERGs and senior executives have made are impressive. The support the companies put behind them comes through in the sometimes staggering number of ERGs or in the types of programming they put on. For example, at one company I noted that a well-known national thought leader on women’s empowerment had been invited to speak at an ERG event.

    This is all good news. Companies need diversity these days. Study after study have shown that diverse companies are more successful than their less diverse counterparts. And with the world itself becoming more diverse, it is in every company’s best interest to mirror their customers.

    What I want now is something more than companies have been offering up to now. I am anxious for the next generation of diversity initiatives. More of the same just won’t cut it anymore. Here are just a couple ideas companies should explore next:

    1. Bring up the pride the company has in diversity without a candidate, investor, customer, or partner having to ask. Perhaps display a picture of the current Board of Directors or Senior Leadership Team that reflects that pride. Really any statistic that would help illustrate this would be welcome.
    2. Add a chair on the Board of Directors to be filled by a representative of the ERGs. This person would be responsible for ensuring the voices of the minority groups are included in any high-level company decisions. I can imagine that this might make some executives uncomfortable, but if the company is doing it right, there are already highly qualified diversity candidates at the highest levels that can serve in this roll.
    3. Involve the ERGs in real business problem solving. I can only imagine the incredible results if these diverse groups brought their talents to bear on, say, a new marketing campaign, the product development process, or on a customer service issue that needs to be solved. Plus, the experience and exposure that these individuals would receive being a part of such a project nearly makes me giddy.
    4. Develop a flexible holiday schedule, allowing associates to take off work on the days most important to them. Many companies have switched to flexible days for sick and vacation, lumping them in together. This just takes it one step further to include holidays.
    5. Share how you are specifically developing programs to help diverse employees throughout the organization to move up the ladder and how you support them at crucial points in their careers. With women, for example, there is a significant danger of them opting out as they move up the corporate ladder. What has the company done to keep this from happening? What programs have been explored? There are similar issues with other groups at various levels.
    6. Hire a diverse candidate to be CEO. There is certainly no better way to show the company’s commitment to diversity than to show it starts at the top. I’ve seen several companies point to the level just below the CEO as an example of diversity. Although this is wonderful to see, this is no longer enough.

    I am certain there are other ways companies could show their next level commitment to diversity. What ideas do you have? What has your company done in this arena so far? What has worked? What hasn’t worked? I would love to hear your thoughts!

    As always, keep it positive! Have a great day!

    The #1 Critical Leadership Skill

    There are many critical skills necessary for effective leadership. There are hundreds of books written on the subject, covering topics as varied as humility, positive attitudes, building on your strengths, communicating effectively, and so on. A quick Google search tells us that the top leadership skills include communication, delegation, motivating the team, and trustworthiness, among many others.

    Leadership is a difficult and complicated concept. There is no doubt that these skills are crucial to successful leadership. A wise, successful leader will surely look to develop all of these skills in order to be the best they can be.

    Underlying these skills, however, lies one critical skill that needs more discussion. It is the absolute essence of leadership, and without it, none of the other skills matter much. It may be that this skill is seen as so elementary that we skip right over it, assuming that someone who considers themselves a leader has already developed this skill.

    My experience says this is far from the truth. What skill is this?

    The ability to make a decision.

    After all, why do we have leaders? In order to make decisions! Hard ones, easy ones, decisions over which direction to go, who to hire, which product to sell, what processes to improve, and so on. Decisions are central to the operation of business. One might say that a decision to not make a decision is still a decision, but this is not the skill I am talking about today.

    Making decisions is hard. After all, if things go awry, it’s your responsibility, your head on the plate! This can be especially daunting if large teams or entire companies are relying on your decisions. That is, however, part and parcel of the whole leadership gig. If someone chooses to become a leader, she/he must understand that this critical skill is at the heart of her/his new responsibilities.

    Have you ever worked for someone who struggled with this skill? It can be the most frustrating experience of all time. Some of the greatest complaints and vexations I have heard over the years come as a result of a leader’s failure to make a decision.

    It can look like this:

    • Employee: We’ve done the research
    • Leader: Yes, but did you look at this? Go back and pull more data

    Or this:

    • Employee: Here is the recommendation we have developed
    • Leader: Let’s take this to the group and see what they think

    Or even this:

    • Employee: So, the decision I heard was to move forward on this.
    • Leader: Yes, well, let me get back to you on that

    These are just some of the ways ‘leaders’ avoid decision-making. Constantly looking for a definite answer that does not exist by continually searching for information is one of the most popular methods. In this situation, the leader feels no decision can be made until all possible data has been explored.

    Another popular method ‘leaders’ use to avoid making decisions is constant consensus building. In this case, the leader turns the decision over to a group. He works back and forth from one team member to the other until those members are in agreement on a decision. The leader may try to explain this as delegating or as listening to his team. Unfortunately, this is simply his/her way of avoiding the responsibility of making the call.

    Another method used to avoid decision making is to simply not decide. By putting off the decision, the leader hopes to kick the decision down the road until someone else makes it or the situation resolves itself.

    First, some advice to leaders: Double-check yourself to be sure you aren’t accidentally using some of these techniques to avoid decision making. Some decisions are hard to make, but that’s why you are in the position you are in. You have been hired to make these difficult decisions, so go do it. I wrote a previous post that may help you here.

    Now, for employees stuck in a position of having to deal with indecisive leaders, here is some advice for you:

    • Anticipate the need for data when presenting information to your boss. This is an important element of managing up, regardless of the type of boss you have, but particularly important when dealing with this type of boss. Know your stuff, have your numbers.
    • Seek buy-in from others involved in the decision-making. Sharing that other leaders are already on-board can be effective in helping your leader make the final call.
    • If your boss requires consensus, work with your co-workers ahead of time to be sure everyone is on the same page before the meeting. This is the same advice as above – simply a different group of people.
    • Don’t give up. If your boss is the type to put off decisions, just keep coming back. Try different ways of presenting the information. Sometimes a quick hallway conversation can be better than a formal meeting/presentation, or vice-versa. Often times leaders need to hear things several times before they actually hear it.
    • If all else fails, and it is absolutely terrible that it can come to this, get yourself a new boss. Life is short, and we all deserve happiness and fulfillment at work. Don’t hang around too long expecting something to change! Make your own tough decision and move on!

    Good luck to you all!

    As always, stay positive!!