change is not for sissies

As I embark upon a major life change, a change of direction in my career, I have been thinking about what I could write about change.  Being an agent of change, you know.  Being someone who can drive change and lead through change and….  well… I really need to start off with how I really feel.  And that is this way:

Change is not for sissies.  Chosen or not, no matter how big or small or how you slice it, change can be pretty damn gnarly.  So it got me thinking about how I have come to be a person who can be an agent of change.  I wasn’t always this way.  I once was a person who stayed in a relationship too long, never wanted to move out of my home and stayed with a company for 15 years until they finally kicked me out through a layoff.  I was a sticker.  I stuck.

And as I reflect on how I have become less sticky over the years, I realize what a tremendous impact that job change had on me.  When I left that job, a job where I grew up, my casualties were many – my confidence took a major hit, my emotions were all over the place: I was sad, rejected, angry, lost and afraid and my anxiety and worry took first place in line in front of being a great Mom and Wife. Change is not for sissies!  But look, necessity will light a fire under your ass faster than anything, so I kept wiping my nose and got to it.

I got to tackling my work search.  And it was painful.  The rejection wasn’t doing anything for my worry or my confidence.  One day I would think I was awesome and the next day I was awful.  It was emotionally brutal.  But I learned about myself that I could make it through that – and in fact, it was one of the most cathartic experiences of my life, in terms of learning that I can be more than I once was, do more than I once did – that I can and will change.  That I can choose change and kick it’s ass. 

And I have.  As I do some reflection on some of the changes I have signed up for in the past 10 years since my “kick out”, I’m amazed.  I’m still somewhat of a sticker, so I see that in myself too, but I love looking back on the personal and professional changes I have chosen to take on.  And my life is so much richer for them.  And not just for the changes that happened to me but for the changes that I brought into my life.  Even those changes make me feel queasy sometimes, and my self-doubt creeps in to try to second guess my choices.  But I move through it stronger and faster because of every single painful change I’ve been through – the job change from 10 years ago, and everything before and after.

So here’s to change.  Bring it!

the death of “swarm ball” and teaming together

“Today my job is to set the screen and then get to my open position for a pass.”  If you have ever been a parent who has mused at, and sometimes painfully watched, little kids play “swarm ball”, then like me, words like these are music to your ears.  “What’s this?!  They are playing positions, they are starting to understand roles and how each role fits together as team!”  You start to realize that perhaps some real play of the sport could be emerging and that they might stop stealing the ball from their own teammate.  (Am I alone in crying out “Spread out!” from the sideline?)

Basketball-Plays

Watching this last weekend’s game and watching a team of 8 year old boys really make it happen on the court got me thinking about just how important it is to ensure every last player on the team, at every given moment, understands their role, what their job is, how they support each other, and that each of them is as important as the next.  These boys were rocking it – the Point Guard taking it down court, the other players getting into predetermined positions around the court.  The Point Guard calls out the play and the team moves into positions, giving and going, setting screens and crossing court.  The pass lands into the hands of the boy crossing and the Point Guard moves toward the basket and is there for the pass back.  He shoots.

And the point is not whether the basket makes it in (which it doesn’t more often than not).  The point is, they are working the play and taking the shots.  Even the fast breaks are orchestrated – while they may look like a one-man play, it takes the team drawing the defense away to make it work.   And it’s going well…  until it doesn’t.  The boys get caught up and the pressure builds and chaos takes over – positioning falls apart, passes aren’t landing, the boys lose confidence, takeovers increase and shots aren’t taken.

This 3rd grade boys basketball game becomes the perfect illustration of irrefutable laws of teams: everyone must have clarity of their role and the roles of others, every role is as important as the next, we must trust each other to deliver and it takes everyone to make it work.

Half time comes and the Coach reminds the team of their jobs.  They settle down and things start moving again.  The team plays beautifully.  They don’t leave the court with a win, this time (this is real life – we lose sometimes!) but when you consider the distance between this kind of play and “swarm ball”, you can’t help but mark the “win” in terms of teaming skills that will translate not only in their next game, but in life.

I think of all the times, including now, where I am part of a new team.  Forming, storming…  and how we, sometimes as players and sometimes as Coaches, are all called to drive clarity around our role and how we make an impact on our court.  It also makes me thankful that I have a group of Coaches with me who are as committed to running the plays as I am.  The more we practice working a team-based model, the more shots we take (and make!) together.

Go-ooooo Team!

a camel in a field full of cows

While it should be said that it’s remarkable in itself that my 8 year old was helping me do the dishes, it’s what he said that has had me thinking.  We were discussing his current overuse of the word “epic” and he informed me that one of his compatriots is no longer using the word.  When I inquired about this sudden change in his friend’s vernacular, Sam informs me that another boy they know has deemed it as a “dumb word” and so his friend has decided to eradicate it from his list of word choices.  I say nothing and we continue to rinse and dry and a moment or so later Sam says, “I like the word.  So I am gonna use it.  Life’s too short to try to be anyone but yourself and I just want to be me.”  Okay.  Makes sense.

I’ve often remarked about the story of Secretariat – the horse that won the triple crown when and wasn’t supposed to.  He defied all odds. What was interesting about this story was not that the horse was a winner.  I mean, okay, every race has a winner.  But what was interesting is that the owner and trainer of Secretariat didn’t treat Secretariat like any other horse.  As they  approached the end of the triple crown series, most of the expected winners were being rested and refreshed.  But the trainers and the owner of Secretariat knew their horse’s needs, what drove him.  So they ran him.  Again and again and again.  And coming into the last race, many others around them felt that it was the end of Secretariat – that they had pushed him too far.  And then not only did Secretariat win the triple crown, but set records in all three stakes that still stand today.  That racehorse had to run.  He had to be himself.  Being himself is what made him a winner.

So then as far as leadership…   well, we’ll come back to that.  First let me just quickly tell you about Mona.

In the San Juan islands, just outside of Friday Harbor, as you drive along the quiet road that takes you through a cross between island life and country life, you’ll wind through pastures that are really pretty predictable.  And nice.  There’s some beautiful fields and some cows along the way and it’s good.  But it only becomes remarkable when you meet Mona.  Mona the camel.  The CAMEL.  I mean really, who pulls over the car to look and see if they really see a cow?  But if you think you see a camel in the middle of an island pasture in Washington State, you think:  well that’s different.  Am I really seeing that?  That’s interesting.  I might want to learn more about that.  What’s the story there?

So that seems pretty obvious when it comes to marketing.  Hit the fringes, the masses will follow when the fringes get obsessed, fanatical and start talking.  Get noticed.  That’s easy enought to get.  But in getting back to being a leader, what does this mean?

What if we stopped interrupting those who don’t care about what we are selling, our purpose?  Like in sales and marketing.  Winning brands know their market and who they are trying to talk to.  They know who their steadfast fans are and who they are trying to interrupt.  Winning brands use those fans as foot soldiers in their branding and in spreading their message.  So in leading teams, what if you let the genius of your absurdities and your differences loose?  What if you said “to hell with it – I love the word epic and I am gonna use it” and I am going to appeal to those that my brand speaks to.  What if we regularly embraced our uniquness instead of trying to stifle it so that we could blend in and be more acceptable and safe.  I wonder about the possibilities we might open up in ourselves and in others – the fringes – who might just get fanatical about the purpose that we serve as leaders and then become leaders themselves in that purpose…  and so the purpose, the idea, the way in which we lead…  spreads.

Anyway, interesting to think about. I’ll just end with this:

Use words you like, even when other people say they are dumb.  Make sure your “trainers” (mentors, leaders, managers, coaches) know what you need and don’t rest you when you really need to run.  Be a camel in a field full of cows. And even if you don’t find anyone follows you – “life’s too short to be anyone but yourself.”

adaptation and getting it right

I can’t really tell you why, but this time I didn’t send Uncle Tom’s email directly to “trash”.  Generally, I see the jokes, “cool photos” or other musing emails come through hotmail, and I click it with my other spam right before clicking “delete”.  But for some reason, this time, I opened it.  And I got inspired for this next blog post.

As a “hot shot” 9 year old skater girl, the only thing between me and my smooth moves was those blasted tree roots.  Pushing up through the concrete sidewalk, sometimes big and other times barely visible, they were always just enough to launch me sideways.  And sometimes fall and scrape my knee.  Those darn sidewalks – with faulty concrete, getting pushed around and bullied by the tree roots.  Licking my wounds (pride and knee), I could look at the sidewalk in front of me and see blocks and blocks of this battle of wills in the way of my awesome skateboard prowess.  Nevertheless, I pressed on, limping along over the cracks and blemishes – imagining a better way.

Since then, an occasional stumble while walking the dog reminds me of the stubborn roots pushing and nagging the sidewalk to relent.

And then I saw Uncle Tom’s photo.  And I thought, well finally.  The roots and the concrete – they got it right.

At first glance, I didn’t think about what came first, did the roots or the concrete give in first.  I didn’t think about who was winning and who was giving in.  I didn’t think about if this was done intentionally or by accident.  I didn’t over think any of it.  I just thought…  THAT. LOOKS. BEAUTIFUL.  Seeing this on my block wouldn’t make me stop because I tripped over it or because my skateboard was wobbly – this would stop me too look at the beauty of these two strong wills, in this case – not fighting, forcing, pushing…  but adapting, melding, changing.   I imagine these two getting to know each other, familiarizing themselves with one another and then acclimating to where they want to go next; thinking, planning and carefully working for a common outcome.  The stones allowing room to let the roots through and the roots moving through with more care and fit – reworking along the way as needed.

It makes me think of the way we are in life and in business and reminded me of how important beautiful relationships can be – as well as the outcomes of those relationships, when approached with a thoughful eye on collaboration and teamwork…  and the willingness to adapt, shift and change in the name of a shared win.  This made me think about change and asks that come my way for adaptation and how it has looked when I’ve fought against and how it has looked when I’ve adapted, collaborated and teamed.  It hasn’t always been, and won’t always be, easy to adjust, to acclimate….  to adapt.  And for sure I can say there will be times that I forget about all of this and in the moment, find myself as the root, pushing through a big challenge.  And maybe I will find myself as the concrete, puckering or cracking under the strain of a change.  But I hope more than not I will think of the beauty of what adaptation can be and sometimes… get it right.

saying how awesome you are is… awesome

I wanna be awesome.

I’m learning I am not alone in the fact that writing my self assessment at annual review time could possibly be the single thing in the work world that I detest doing the most.   As I sit here and reflect on why that is, it really takes very little time to get to the heart of it.  It makes me feel weird.  And saying good things about myself makes me feel all braggy.  Which, again, makes me feel weird.  Mind you, I can go on and on and on about the places where I could use work.  That part comes easy.  But it’s not the whole truth and it’s also not gonna win me credit for my time and energy that I put in, credibility from my experiences, and it sure isn’t gonna make me popular with my leadership team!

I came across this article the other day that was titled “The Right Way to Speak to Yourself”  and I thought,”Well duh, of course, that makes sense.” I mean when I look at my son Sam, who is 8, I so often marvel at his willingness to share an honest assessment of himself  “Oh yeah, I’m not very good at shuffling cards yet, my hands are kinda small”  and “I’m a good dancer because…  well because I am awesome.”  We come into the world with clear vision into ourselves only to cloud it – or at least the ability to speak about it, along the way.

http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2012/08/teach-yourself-to-have-a-healthy.html

The article is interesting becuase it’s a quick read on remembering to think about this as we manage our relationships with others as well as ourselves.  The idea that “possibly it’s because we grow up in an academic setting that emphasizes critique over admiration. Perhaps it feels arrogant — unseemly even —  to speak to ourselves with the effusive praise and positivity that Dorit [the first grade teacher] spoke to her class. It might even feel dangerous to go easy on ourselves. If we did, maybe we wouldn’t accomplish anything at all. Maybe we’d devolve into laziness.”  Hmm.

I read on.  And then there it was.  The word.  Love.  Could I answer the question if I am worth it to myself, could I love myself enough, to carve out time each week or month to support and care for my own story?  Could I take myself to the classroom once a week to spend a few minutes reflecting back on mistakes I’ve learned from this week, things that went well, places I shined?  Could I privately mark down progress I’ve made?  Progress I want to make?  I think know I could.  So will I?

The article made me want to spring into action – to try to get a tactic, something tangible, that can help me take myself to the classroom once a week.  I didn’t surface alot of ideas that felt right for me, so for now, I pledge to at a minimum – carve out the time in my calendar once a week to create space to write a few pages of my story and mark my work.  My hope is, when mid year and annual review times come along, this space will help me turn self assessment loathing into love (or at least like), and that I’ll not only be able to call out where my hands are too small for shuffling, but also when I’m…. well awesome.

 

 

 

 

my comfort zone (a poem) – unknown author

I used to have a comfort zone where I knew I wouldn’t fail.
The same four walls and busywork were really more like jail.
I longed so much to do the things I’d never done before,
But stayed inside my comfort zone and paced the same old floor.
I said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing much.
I said I didn’t care for things like commission checks and such.
I claimed to be so busy with the things inside the zone,
But deep inside I longed for something special of my own.
I couldn’t let my life go by just watching others win.
I held my breath; I stepped outside and let the change begin.
I took a step and with new strength I’d never felt before,
I kissed my comfort zone goodbye and closed and locked the door.
If you’re in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out,
Remember that all winners were at one time filled with doubt.
A step or two and words of praise can make your dreams come true.
Reach for your future with a smile; success is there for you!

footy socks, butter knives & king leonidas

In August or September 480 BC, the Battle at Thermopylae (aka the gates of fire or the hot gates) ensued and has now become synonymous of what courage looks like when faced with overwhelming odds.

Xerxes of Persia had amassed a huge army and navy, and set out to conquer all of Greece. The Greeks needed to block the advance of the Persian army at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae, all the while blocking the Persian navy by Sea – a mind numbing feat.  During the first seven days of battle, Greece’s King Leonidas was able to hold back the Persian army of hundreds of thousands, with a seemingly far inadequate force of just 7,000.

During the battle a local resident betrayed the Greeks by revealing a small path that led behind the Greek lines and allowed for the Persian army to take hold of the advantage. Decisively, Leonidas dismissed the bulk of the Greek army, and himself remained to guard the rear of the pass with around 1,500 (300 of which were Spartans who’ve been made famous over time).

While the vast majority of the last stand Greek soldiers were killed at Thermopylae, the critical role they played in holding off the Persian army for several days was, in large part, the reason for the decisive victory over the Persian fleet at sea.  Had it not been for King Leonidas, his 7,000 and then later the ~1,500 last standers, Athens would have surely fallen.  Stalling the Persians at Thermopylae allowed for the Athenians to strengthen the Greek fleet and win at the Battle of Salamis – proving as the pivotal win for the Greeks.

I’ve always been a history buff, and being Greek, well this story has it all.  But aside from all that patriotic gush – this story is about leadership and courage during tough times.  As a man among men, King Leonidas was indistinguishable from his men in battle, but stands out as a Leader among Kings today.  As was customary, he put on his armor and braided his hair as along side his men, marched in and stayed behind in the last stand, facing certain death.  He did so with passion, purpose and a clear understanding of the bigger picture that his leadership in that moment of time contributed to.  And when faced with the challenge of Xerses’ demand to Leonidas for the Greeks to handover their weapons, Leonidas simply replied “Μολών λαβέ” (Come and get them!)

Thankfully, nothing we’re doing in our work lives today provides that kind of pressure!  But it is still a good reminder of how critical it is to stand up as leaders and stand as one force in the face of challenge and adversity.  When you need to take a hill in footy socks rather than boots, with butter knives rather than elite weaponry, we must rely upon our passion and purpose to drive us forward.  When you have big hairy challenges in front of you where you feel as though you are just 7,000 against hundreds of thousands – remember Leonidas.

Let’s sack that hill together.