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What’s Your Legacy?

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

In the last three weeks I have been to four funerals of friend’s dads. I’m just getting to that age… I didn’t interact much with any of these beautiful men, so I had to get most of my sense of them from the eulogies given by family members and friends.

My friend Vicki’s dad, Cliff, owned a children’s clothing shop when I was growing up—everyone knew him. I laughed at the stories and felt love as I heard them. His grandson called him, “My best friend.” Cliff was a volunteer fireman. The curmudgeon of a fire chief started to cry in between some rather colorful words (that will be part of his legacy) and Vicki had to take over and read what he had prepared to say about her Dad. Cliff was well liked and loved.

My father in law was at this funeral. As I stood by the gravesite arm in arm with the 83 year old man I’ve grown to love as I love my own father, he said, “I hope people remember Cliff. He was a special man. Nobody ever remembers you after you go.”

I stopped breathing. Wow. How could people not remember Cliff? He was funny, quirky, loving, social and very loyal to his friends and family. I realize now that my father in law wasn’t talking about his friend Cliff. He was talking about himself.

It made me connect on my own legacy—for my family, friends and also people I work with. My kids always tease me about how they will say at my funeral, “ … and she could fall asleep in front of the TV every night better than anyone we ever knew…”

Legacy is about consistency. (All right. I admit I’ve fallen asleep somewhat consistently on that couch.) But what else are people going to remember me for? How have I made a positive impact in other’s lives? How have I shown that I love them, or made them laugh, feel better about themselves, given them an opportunity to stretch their abilities so that they feel even more success than they might otherwise? And not just once, but consistently when they knew they needed me most, and when they didn’t know it until I was there.

The truth is every one deserves to be remembered, and Dad, you’ve made sure we won’t forget you. Meanwhile, I am going to work hard on being remembered for something other than sleeping on the couch.

The Sales call where I stepped in s_ _ t and came out smelling like roses—

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Lesson learned: The power of focusing outward, versus inward.

On Friday I met a co-worker to go on a new business call. On our two-hour drive, we had plenty of time for her to update me on what she knew already of the client. I had done my research on line so was prepared with the questions I needed to ask, and with information I knew they wanted from me.

The building was elegant with a fountain and crystal chandelier as you walked in the door.  I was dressed in a suit and pumps (I did skip the stockings…it was an awfully hot day!) and excited about the opportunity. After we signed in, I asked to use the ladies room. The client walked me to the door of a one room unisex bathroom and told me where to meet them. I thanked him and opened the door of the bathroom and stepped into the dark……..

I felt water go into my right shoe just as I turned on the light. Yes, there was water, lots of it. And it wasn’t just ordinary water…it was water that was at one time in the toilet with other things…the remnants of which were floating all around my foot.  It was very squishy…

I gasped and stepped back out into the hallway and closed the bathroom door. I stood there hyperventilating. My rationale self started to come back around. “I can handle this,” I said to myself.  After all, I have kids, dogs and cats.” “I’ve swam in lakes with lots of unknown things in the water.”

One thing was for sure.  I wasn’t going to go into the meeting with my “foot” that way! I needed another bathroom. I waited about a minute, as I wanted to make sure the “eeeeee-uuuuuuuu!!!!” expression was off my face. I walked, with one foot going “squish” as I stepped on it, to the client’s office and said I needed another bathroom- that one had a little water problem.

I took off my shoe and put it under hot water. I took soap and washed the leather outside and inside the shoe. I put my foot up on the sink (hard to do with a skirt on) and washed my foot with soap and the hottest water I could stand! I dried everything as best I could.

I made a conscious decision during my “wash” time that this incident was not going to “come with me” into the sales call.

The call went really well, and I am confident it will lead to business. I know that would not have been the case if I had not given myself a few moments to release the situational stress before the call.

So, Lessons Learned:

  1. Sales calls only work well if we are focused on what is going on with the client, not with us.
  2. Facial expressions can give us away, way before our words do. Be cognizant of the messages we are giving with our body and our voice.
  3. A minute or so of time to refocus after a stressful (& in this case down-right disgusting!) experience helps us separate the two events so the problem doesn’t impact both situations.

And you’re wondering if my shoes survived the submerging and rigorous washing? Yes, they did—no worse for the experience actually. My first thought was to throw them away but hey, maybe these will always be my lucky shoes-my reminder that you can step in it and still come out smelling like roses.

Good Morning beautiful Marsha!

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

My daughter, Kelly had her first school experience at age three. (I won’t tell you what she did the first day that made me afraid they would kick her out and she wouldn’t even graduate from Nursery School!)

As they do at most nursery schools, she had a music teacher who came in every day with a guitar and sang with the kids. Kelly adored her. I do have talents, but leading 4-year-olds in song is not among them, so when it came time for her birthday party I asked Marsha if she would come and entertain the kids.

Marsha came. This was the first time I had ever met Marsha in person. She quickly arranged all fifteen 4- years-olds in a circle and sat down on the grass with them and her guitar. She folded her sandaled feet under her long skirt. Her long, slightly greasy hair fell over her glasses and she started to play beautiful music with her somewhat chubby and very pale fingers.

Then the learning happened. Marsha said, “Good morning beautiful children!”  15 four-year-olds in unison responded, “Good morning beautiful Marsha!”

For a split second I wanted to laugh. She had obviously taught these kids to respond this way. Marsha was extremely talented, but beautiful, no. That is not a word anyone would use to describe her physically.

That was when I realized how stupid (& ugly) I was at that moment and how smart (and beautiful) Marsha was.

I learned:
• People will see you based on what you put out to them- It’s the lesson of confidence. Display your belief in yourself and others are very likely to believe in you as well!
• When you treat others as “beautiful”, they will return the favor- Its a simple lesson that has far reaching impact. Look for the value in people and it will be there. And it’s always beautiful.

Thank you beautiful Marsha for two wonderful life lessons that I think about to this day! And a lot of days have passed since Kelly almost got kicked out of nursery school. She is about to graduate from College and head off to get her doctorate.

Thank you also beautiful Marsha, for your role in Kelly’s confidence in herself.

Recovery from: When a great leader goes bad…2

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

In my last blog I talked about the intense power of stress on our interaction skills and how the higher our cognitive ability, the greater the impact. I talked about Jake the genius, a leader who had lost his ability to motivate and positively impact the behavior of his team during this stressful, leaner business environment.

Our brainpower—or cognitive ability– to think, innovate and motivate can get severely squeezed by the stress of the work environment or issues at home. What results is so much “noise” in the thinking part of our brains, that we are literally paralyzed cognitively. We find that we can’t use logic, display productive emotions and empathize-three critical components of effective communication. While crippled by our limited brainpower, we communicate the wrong things to our staff—demotivating messages, confusing body language, and uncontrolled emotion.

Biologically this reaction to stress is the same for each of us. So the Jake scenario has occurred repeatedly during the past year to the detriment of leaders, their staff and the results of their organizations.

Changing biologically directed and negative responses takes conscious effort on our part. But it can be done. Here’s a plan for leaders who find themselves in this situation.

How to recover—

1. Admit your own “bad” behavior- Sorry for the analogy, but like an alcoholic at the first AA meeting, admitting is the first step.
2. Apologize sincerely to those affected- Explain that you have a sense of what you have been like, and that you recognize it couldn’t have been fun for any of them. No “buts” or excuses!
3. Ask for their thoughts. Listen intently- by looking them in the eyes, taking notes, and paraphrasing what they say.
4. Ask for their help in noticing improvement-when more motivating behaviors occur again. Ask them to focus less on if you screw up, and more when you’re “awesome.”
5. Put a conscious plan in place- Keep a written log for yourself so you are consciously tracking helpful, supportive behavior. Being aware of our progress gives us the autonomy we need to continue to build on our success.

Know that because we are all human, you may “fall off the wagon” from time to time. Recovering your strong leader status is not about perfection.

Good Luck and cheers! Here’s to hoping my next blog is, “When a temporarily bad leader gets great again!”

When a good leader goes bad–

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Recently I was asked to coach a manager whom I first worked with 5 years ago. Let’s call him Jake the genius. He is one of the top ten smartest people I know. When I first met Jake, I was impressed with his insight, his forward thinking, and his ability to motivate and develop the sales team that worked for him. He hired extremely talented people, and they would sing his praises to anyone who would listen.

He got results. Better than any other team in the organization.

Five years later and his staff is telling a different story. “Jake has become negative lately….” Jake doesn’t listen, and is very impatient with me.…” “Jake is so unfair the way he…” “I’m not sure I can keep working for Jake. ….”

What happened you ask? Stress happened.

Like many of us today in this economy, Jake has been asked to take on more responsibility. He was promoted to a new position, but learned that he still needed to manage his existing team. He was told to increase his revenue numbers in a down economy. He watched his manager demonstrate her worry and impatience with the success of the group.

Research shows that people with higher cognitive ability are actually more impacted by stress than others.  Luckily for Jake, one of his salespeople was brave enough to talk to him about these issues, and he sought out a coach to help him make adjustments.

As a leader of people, it’s a good time to ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. Has the amount of time you spend communicating with your people changed drastically in the last six months?
  2. Are you communicating more electronically than in person, or by phone?
  3. Do the people that work for you seem more “distant” from you, less communicative, than before?

If the answer to two or more of these questions is “yes”, it probably makes sense for you to consider how your behavior is affecting your staff’s ability to perform at their best.

In my next blog I’ll talk more about why stress impacts our behavior so drastically, and what we can do to counteract it.

Laura Daley