No One Is Coming

Years ago, a friend said this to me. Her comment profoundly impacted me, and when I recently read this line in a book, I called her. After we talked about our memories of that conversation, she asked me if I would write about it, and I agreed.

No one is coming. What does this even mean? 

The great thing about this comment is that you can interpret it in your way. When I heard it the first time from my friend, the message I heard was that no one would fix this for me, and no one was going to rescue me or the situation. It’s up to me to choose to be a victim or choose to take action.

 I was at a career crossroads. My friend happened to call me one day when I was sitting on my back porch, ruminating. I was frustrated about my situation and wanted it to be different. Until my conversation with her, my focus was on how to change my circumstance. Instead of seeing a bigger picture and possible alternatives, I was narrowly focused on finding a solution to what was.

I shared the story with her, and she shared one of her own, and then she flatly stated, “no one is coming.” At first, I was taken aback by her comment, yet her words caused me to pause and evaluate. After some reflection time, I realized she was right, no one was coming, and it was time for me to choose. 

Embarking on a pivot of my own led to creating The You Pivot™ Program, which enabled me to continue my mission of inspiring others toward action so that they can achieve the results that matter to them. 

P.S. Today, whenever I feel frustrated and powerless in a situation, I remember my friend’s words and remind myself, No one is coming.

Is it the being or the doing that makes us uncomfortable?

How often do we hear people say that they embrace diversity and then behave another way? As Ralph Waldo Emerson was fond of saying, “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear your words.” 

My sense is this happens because embracing diversity is easy most of the time. It’s not when folks are different from us; it’s when folks do something different that we feel challenged.

As leaders, it is our job to create an environment where everyone feels included so that we can successfully optimize our common organizational goals. At the same time, in these polarized times, leaders are increasingly finding team members looking for those “doing differences.”

What to do when we find these doing differences? 

I remember once we invited two couples for dinner, and we were surprised when we opened the door, and one of the couples brought with them someone we didn’t know. They introduced the guest as a family member visiting from out of town. We set another place at the table and politely didn’t say anything, hoping the expressions on our faces didn’t reveal our surprise. 

After they left, we talked about how inappropriate we thought they were to bring someone without asking or at least telling us. Later on, we remembered that there were always extra people at the table when we had been to their house. It was the custom in their culture to include everyone in a meal, so it didn’t occur to them to ask.

The questions that come to mind for me are:

  • How do we set aside our differences and, at the same time, embrace them so that our organizations benefit from the broader thinking that diversity brings?
  • How do we know when to confront behavior that seems in conflict with what we are accustomed to or when to leave it be because the behavior results from life differences rather actual conflict?

Listen, Please

As leaders, we are problem solvers. Problem-solving is a crucial strength required in a leader. And yet, sometimes, the best solution is to simply listen.

When I first began working as an executive coach, I believed that my role was always to motivate my client toward action. While I still believe action is required to achieve results, I have also learned that, and often have to remind myself, that sometimes, it’s best to just listen.

Sometimes all a person wants is the opportunity to think out loud. And for us, as the listener, to do just that. To simply listen, not offer advice, perhaps ask a question or two and then allow them to sit with their own questions, their own reflections, and come to their own answers. 

Sometimes being heard is enough. Perhaps at a later date, it’s time for action.

What Does Spring Mean For You?

The first official day of spring was two weeks ago, and today in Chicago, the high is expected to reach 43° brrr. Yet, spring is in the air.  

We see it in the bulbs sticking their flowers up through the dirt, in the longer days, and in the hopeful attitudes and smiles of people we meet. It’s almost here, we exclaim!

Each season marks the passage of time, and each spring, we celebrate an awakening. For some, it is a time for beginning. For others, it is a reminder that there is a time for every season, both darkness and light.  Still, others consider how many or how few springs they may have left. 

  • What does spring mean to you?
  • What are you grateful for with the coming of spring this year? 
  • Is there something you want to begin for the first time or begin again?

What Are You Doing In The Shower?

Strange question for a post about leadership, eh? Here’s why I ask…. Used to be, we got our best ideas in the shower. Today, most of us are on the run. So much so that instead of just taking a shower, we are busy planning what is next; thinking about what has to get done.

And if we are in motion all day long, even during what used to be called down time, what is the cost?

  • To our businesses, to our creativity, to ourselves?
  • What opportunities are we missing by focusing only on what is urgent?
  • What might be the result if we allowed time for reflection?

From Pandemic to Endemic

2021 ended with yet another year of living in a pandemic. As I begin this new year, I’ve been reflecting on one of The Economist’s predictions, “In 2022, we will see Covid 19 move from a pandemic to endemic.”

Over the last two years, we have become so accustomed to making life and business choices based on this pandemic that I wonder, if this prediction is correct, how long will it take for behaviors to change accordingly?

We tend to make choices based on what we know, and it’s convenient to accumulate a bank of knowledge and rely on that to make decisions. What happens, though, when what we know isn’t so anymore?

The changing nature of Covid, what to test, when to mask, what test to rely on, etc., is a reminder, what is so today, may not be so tomorrow.

Can we learn to accept Covid as part of our society, much like other contagious diseases? Can we learn to protect those at risk and share vaccines worldwide while not trying to stop the world in the process?

Can we keep some of the good we learned from these past two years, e.g., we can nurture relationships on Zoom, take precautions to prevent spreading viruses, trust people to work even when we can’t see them working?

And can the lessons of the Covid evolution teach us to pause and evaluate what we are so confident of today that may not be so tomorrow?

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain

The Ever Elusive Search for Work-Life Balance

For many of us, the holy grail of success is achieving “Work-Life- Balance.” It is a topic of frequent discussion in my coaching sessions and is often first on the list when we start working together.

And yet, despite all the discussions, books, and articles, many of us feel this “balance” eludes us. Perhaps, it is because we see it as an either/or – choosing between work and life to achieve balance?

What if, instead, we saw it, as James Michener did, becoming masters in the art of living.

“Masters in the art of living make little distinction
between their work and their play, their
labor and their leisure, their mind and their
body, their information, and their
recreation, their love, and their religion.
They hardly know which is which.
They simply pursue their vision of excellence at
whatever they do, leaving others to
decide whether they are working or playing.
To them, they are always doing both.”

Labor Day in a Pandemic – Year 2

When the first nationally recognized Labor Day was celebrated in 1894, the day consisted of a street parade sending up a message of “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” (in the words of the AFL). 

We have come a long way since then. Today, especially in this war for talent, most employers focus on offering opportunities and benefits to attract and retain talent.

Yet, the disruption from the pandemic continues. Help wanted signs everywhere, a labor shortage stretching from unskilled workers to high-level professionals and executives. 

Pundits of all types are offering commentary on this topic. Some say it’s a permanent shift only to be resolved by wage and price inflation. Others say we have a move away from work and that automation will resolve the issue.  

The Economist recently published a report entitled Will the Rich World’s Worker Deficit Last?  The authors estimate the current employment deficit to be 3% below the pre-pandemic level. While acknowledging demand shortages, their research shows that supply shortages are more significant. They describe three causes of the reduced supply: disruption owing to the spread of covid-19, primarily as a result of disruption to migration; the impact of welfare policy and pensions, recent research by Goldman Sachs, finds that “excess retirees” account for about a quarter of the decline in the country’s participation rate; and finally “changes to longer-term attitudes” wrought by the pandemic. 

They conclude by saying that “it seems that the extent to which the worker deficit endures will depend in part on how long the disruption and the fear caused by the pandemic last. Rising wages might lure some of those who left the workforce back into jobs. But the longer the pandemic goes on, the harder it becomes for those who left to return, and the more likely it is that new habits stick.”

Time will tell. And, as always, within every challenge lies opportunity.  

In the United States, we live in a world full of innovators. I am looking forward to seeing the solutions entrepreneurs come up with to address this latest labor challenge.

 

What Is Vulnerability?

I find that the topic of vulnerability comes up frequently in discussions amongst leaders with varying descriptions of what it means to “show vulnerability.”

Here are some questions to expand the dialogue:

  • Does vulnerability have to mean showing emotion?
  • It’s OK for a woman to have tears and talk about feelings, but still not OK for men?
  • What’s the difference between showing vulnerability and showing weakness?
  • How do we, as leaders, coach the leaders we work with on how to show up both confident and vulnerable?

And here are some stories from leaders I’ve worked with:

“I was a relatively new leader of a high growth business. We missed our numbers one year, and up in the front of the room, I teared up when I shared the news with my team. I felt shame that I didn’t control my emotions. Yet, the team rallied, each leader coming up to me to commit to what they would do to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

“First at age 18, and then at age 22, I entered the two most emotionless organizations there are, West Point at age 18 and Marines at age 22. In some way, these experiences hardened me to outward emotional signs. Then as a small unit infantry combat commander in Vietnam, we had to suppress and not show any emotions despite what we may have felt inside. To show emotions to the 18 & 19-year-old Marines that we led wasn’t viewed as something commanders did, and we worried that emotions might enter into the brutal things we had to do in the infantry. In our generation, it wasn’t considered ‘Marine like’ to show emotion—which of course led many of us to suppress PTSD feelings.”

“I have been working on culture in my company. Frustrated with the lack of progress, I stood up in front of the entire leadership team, all levels, and told my personal story, my values, my expectations of myself as a leader. Wow, what an impact it had; people began to ‘get it.’ And yet, I discovered that my two senior leaders, both women, struggled with this. They said they work hard to be “professional,” and to them showing or talking about feelings was weak and unprofessional.”

For all leaders, it is important to have followers trust our message. As such, there is a fine line between appearing vulnerable yet confident and appearing weak. These stories speak to different ways to address this challenge.

For me, it’s something like this,

  • Vulnerable is I am human. I make mistakes, admit them, learn from them, and move on.
  • Weak is I am uncertain. I don’t trust myself, I don’t know what to do.

 

There is as much fun in getting there…

Occasionally there are small moments in life that leave a lasting impact. Years ago, I was sitting on a bench at the old Union Station. An old man sat down next to me, and we engaged in conversation. I asked him where he was headed, and he replied with glee, “San Francisco!”

“Wow,” I said, “that is a long way to go on the train.” His reply: “There is as much fun in getting there as there is in being there.”

This man’s answer has stayed with me, and I often think of him in these situations:

  • When I am too focused on getting to the outcome
  • When it’s time to pause
  • When it’s time to remember to be in the moment

In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Desmond Tutu and Dalai Lama, these two extraordinary seers inspire us with their tales of being in the moment and experiencing joy, even in the face of adversity.

I wonder if my traveling acquaintance realized that he had seized on the secret to joy.