Alone and Not Alone

I just got back from a 5-day creative writing retreat with 10 brave, talented artists. It was an intense, exhausting and exhilarating experience where our extraordinary teacher Ann Randolph gently yet firmly pushed us way outside our comfort zones.

We wrote alone, sitting in the same room. And then we read our stories aloud to one another. 

It felt sacred, being alone and together. Having time to go deep into our own writing and reflection, and then being able to speak our truths among such a safe, caring group of people. 

What does this have to do with improving the soul of work? I "re-entered" the work world wondering:

  • Why are so many work relationships and "team building" attempts so superficial? If there were more ways to share more of the real us, there could be so much more empathy, compassion and psychological safety at work.  And with that, more people might speak up and more might listen. And more of the right things might get done faster.
  • Why don't more people take time to journal about their work to more clearly understand what's happening and put it into perspective? Research shows that when we slow things down and reflect, we're able to be more creative about solving especially challenging problems. Check out this recent HBR post by former CEO Dan Ciampa, "The More Senior Your Job Title, the More You Need to Keep a Journal." (Then insert, "The More Committed You Are...")
  • Similarly, why don't more people take time to think? Especially with close friends. One of the articles I re-read every summer is "Of Solitude and Leadership" by former Yale professor William Dersiewicz, based on his speech to plebes at West Point. It's long, but his perspectives on bureaucracy, complacency and conformity speak to us Rebels. His view on how to "find the strength to challenge an unwise order or wrongheaded policy" is especially wise. And something we can all do.
  • Why don't more people do the right thing just because it's the right thing?  Some of my best writing will never be published. Some of our bravest rebel recommendations will never get us a promotion. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't persevere.  Let's stop aiming for the biggest platform to change the world or a bazillion Twitter followers and just do work that matters, however "small" it may seem.  Charles' Einstein's recent piece, "The Age of We Need Each Other" captures this thought brilliantly.

I hope you find some time this summer to reflect, have leisurely conversations with friends about ideas that matter, and keep on. You have more talents and innate wisdom than you probably realize.

Reconsidering Superheroes

I had dinner last week with a good friend who has worked as a hospital executive for 30 years.  When I told her about today’s event, she started raving.

“These people working in home health care are amazing,” she said. “The stress, the uncertainty of one day to the next, the never knowing when budgets are going to be cut, the seriousness and complexity of patient issues.  I’m telling you these health care professionals are some of the bravest people in the world.  They are heroic, real life super heroes.”

I told her I disagreed.

In the face of fear or danger anyone can be brave.

Health care professionals are more than brave.  You are courageous. And courage is one of the most important virtues in our world. Maybe more important now than ever before.

There are four traits that make up courage:

  1. Honesty: speaking the truth, acting in a genuine, sincere way, and taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.
  2. Perseverance: sticking with what’s important and getting things done despite obstacles.
  3. Vitality: bringing enthusiasm and energy to how you live. Not doing things half-heartedly. Feeling alive and optimistic.
  4. Bravery: not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain. Speaking up for what is right and acting on your convictions even if they’re unpopular.

Courageous people do what is right. They willfully resist taking the easy way out. They rebel against complacency and mediocrity. They keep going when most people give up.

Courageous people inspire us to be better versions of ourselves.

And this room today is jam packed with courageous people.

Honesty, perseverance, bravery, vitality. These are the traits that make us courageous.  We all have these innate traits, according to psychology research.  And the more we use these traits, the greater our courage becomes.

Getting out of Crazytown

But let’s not pretend there aren’t those days when stress sucks the energy from us.  People quit. Budgets cut get. A patient’s family gets emotional and confrontational. Administrative paperwork follows you home.  Your car blows a tire and your child is sick and you can’t get to work.  Your sister gets a bad diagnosis. The basement floods and there goes the vacation money.  Your life feels like Crazy Town.

Anybody here ever felt like they were in Crazytown?

No one feels particularly courageous on those days. Most of us feel downright pissy.

The big question is: How do some people quickly bounce back from stressful situations and stay positive and optimistic – while others become negative, complacent, or, even worse, think of themselves as martyrs?  Why do some people thrive despite life’s inevitable obstacles?

They practice resiliency.

Resiliency is simply defined as the ability to cope with stress and rebound quickly. It’s not something most of us are born with. We have to consciously develop it.

Four favorite resiliency practices

While everyone in this room knows the value of eating well, sleeping soundly and exercising regularly, there are four other resiliency practices I’d like to share with you.

They’ve truly transformed my life, helping me quickly adapt and bounce back during those personal and professional Crazy Town periods

Three good things/hunt the good. Every night write down the three things that did go well during the day. Doing this helps us see the good in life, even on the Crazytown days. As importantly, it helps us look for the good every day, developing a more optimistic, positive mindset. Which, by the way is contagious.

Self-compassion/being kind to yourself: No one is harder on ourselves than ourselves.  We are our toughest critics. On those tough days, I’d suggest you think of the famous Otis Redding song, and try a little tenderness. For yourself. 

When our good friends are stressed and feeling down, we’re there to offer them kindness and compassionate advice.  “You’re too exhausted to think. Go home and sleep for 12 hours and things will look differently when you’re rested,” we might say to her. Why not give that advice to ourselves?

Appreciating your work mates: Appreciation is the single greatest motivator at work, according to Dr. Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania. Not “have a great day” balloons or rah-rah parties. (Though some days those can be so much fun.)  I encourage you all to make time twice a year, or better yet, once a month, to tell your team mates what they do that makes your work so much better. Giving and receiving appreciation lifts our spirits and fills our tanks with enormously positive energy.

Be in awe: No matter what’s going on in our lives, we can stop and marvel at some small wonder in the world. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease and today he was off. My worrying lizard brain was starting to act up. I went outside and looked up at the sky finally clearing after last night’s vicious thunderstorms.  The clouds looked magical. For a couple of minutes I got lost in their beauty. And got myself out of worry and into a can-do mentality. Stop. Look up and look around. There is such beauty in unexpected places.

And for good measure, know that indigenous peoples found that story telling, dancing, singing and silence are universal salves for our souls.  I especially recommend the dancing and silence, two things most of us never get enough of.

Believing in Wonder Woman’s belief

To wrap up and get to the awards, I want to confess that I not only told my healthcare friend that bravery was over-rated. I told her that we shouldn’t worship heroes.  No one person saves the day.  It’s about courage and diverse teams of people working together, not heroics.

But then I saw Wonder Woman this weekend and think there may be room for that kind of hero.

At the end of the movie Wonder Woman says to her nemesis:

It isn’t about what you deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will save the world.

Here’s to courage and resiliency and a whole lot of love. And most of all, here’s to all of you here today. You are true wonder women and men.

This is an abbreviated version of Lois’ speech at the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts’ 2017 Innovation and Star Awards ceremony.




Another Crazy Love Song

Music keeps me sane, especially driving during rush hour. So when SiriusXM yanked my favorite station (The Loft) off the air for two weeks, I programmed Soul Town into my car radio and my psyche.

My first reaction to these 60’s and 70s soul classics was, “Oh, my God, how did we grow up on such a steady stream of lovelorn and often sexist music?”

Yearning, marveling, celebrating, mourning.  Talk about getting into our souls.

There was Barry White crooning, “You're my first, my last, my everything.” Aretha sitting in vain, wrapping on the door, tapping on the windowpane trying to get her guy back.  Bill Withers getting no sunshine because she went away. And The Supremes reminding us that though they set you free, they’d be there for you no matter what, ‘cause ain't no mountain high enough to keep them from you.

For a few days I wondered whether this music was just a little too over-dramatic and dated to keep listening to.

Flip the perspective: This Song Is For You

One day as DJ Ken “Spiderman” Webb’s mellifluous voice mellowed my exasperated mood in bumper-to-by bumper traffic, I played a little head game.  What if I listened to these love songs as songs to myself instead of odes to current and lost loves?

Might flipping the perspective of these classic tunes be a way to reach out and show myself a little tenderness? Might they give me a little sunshine on a cloudy day?

And then my thoughts went to how good most of us are at not being so good to ourselves. People tell me their bosses, their children, their mothers are tough on them.  But really, we’re toughest on ourselves.

There’ so much I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that we can’t help others, do our best work, or enjoy life if we don’t first reach out and comfort and care for ourselves.

Research by Dr. Kristin Neff, a University of Texas psychology professor and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself has found that people who are self-compassionate lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical. Self-compassion works better than self-esteem; it gives us a stable sense of security and self-worth and improves our motivation.

Neff recommends that we try to talk to ourselves like we would our best friends, offering advice and doling out kindness.

I’d add singing love songs to yourself.

The Loft is back but I’m not giving up Soul Town. Excuse me while I get back to Diana and Marvin:

Stop, look
Listen to your heart, hear what it's saying
Stop, look
Listen to your heart, hear what it's saying
Love, love, love

Come to Courage Camp

I feel like I've been a career cat, living many fascinating professional paths from journalist and PR exec to digital marketing agency leader to word-of-mouth-advocate. And my favorite, as co-founder of the Rebels at Work movement.

It's been thrilling, except for those frustrating and sometimes dark transition times.

You know, those periods when you know it's time to grow into something new but you get stuck. Doubting whether it's possible. Worrying if you might be making the wrong decision. Wishing that there was a fairy godmother who might just swoop in and magically take you from now to the perfect tomorrow.

From these stuck periods, interviewing hundreds of courageous leaders, and delving deep into positive psychology and resilience research, I've learned there ARE ways to more quickly go from "it's time to move" to "Yes, I'm loving in this new role/world. Hallelujah."

To guide people in getting from now to next, I'm hosting an intimate, two-day leadership retreat -- Courage Camp -- at the beautiful Mt. Hope Farm in Bristol, RI on August 16 and 17.

My fellow camp leaders are the wonderful Daniel Doucette and Jillian Reilly, extraordinary organizational development and leadership coaches.

Courage Camp Promise

We'll be gathering in a historic Adirondack lodge at the water's edge (No PowerPoints!!), and guiding people through exercises, talks and conversations so that they are able to:

  • Reflect on their unique strengths, pattern of success and innate wisdom.
  • Get clear on their true aspirations and acknowledge what they need to let go of.
  • Gain an understanding of how to use discomfort and uncertainty in productive ways.
  • Learn practices and habits that develop the necessary courage and resiliency to step into new possibilities.

If you know anyone who might benefit from this special program, I would appreciate you forwarding this email onto them. No one should be stuck in limbo too long.

And if you're in that place where "More" or "Different" are calling you, please consider joining us.

Here is a link to Courage Camp, which explains more about the program, and here is the registration information.


Possibility Reunion

It starts Friday, checking into the dorm and making our way to the clam bake.

There will no doubt be drinking and dancing. Laughing and teasing. Some bragging and the requisite bullshit until everyone calms down and realizes that no one cares about titles, beach houses, exotic travels, wonderful children, and, for some, darling grandchildren.

Then the fun can begin.

The reaching back to remember our naked-hearted 20-year-old selves, where we dreamed of where the world might take us and then worried what time we had to get to Scorpios before the bar stopped letting people in. When our hearts burst open from our first sexual crushes and then contemplated how we might make a difference in the world.

When we’d stay up all night talking with friends, crying over Joni Mitchell, pondering the keys of life with Stevie, freeing our wild sides with Barry White. No one had to tell us about the importance of authenticity, transparency, listening, passion, learning, creativity. They ran through our veins and filled us with wonder and wildness. (Wild cats, indeed.)

University of New Hampshire was a safe place to own our intelligence, free ourselves from adolescent and parental restrictions, experiment with our longings, and find friends whom we would end up loving forever.

UNH seeded our lives with possibilities.

Forty years later many yearn for that feeling. If you’re lucky, deaths, divorces, illness, financial setbacks, emotional punches and physical betrayals have nibbled away at optimism. For many others the ravenous vampire of life has sucked it away. Yes, we’re wiser and some days wearier.

I’m sure there will be talk this weekend about donating for a class gift, which we will all try to do.

But a more significant class gift may be to wander the lush, gorgeous campus together and reconnect to what is still possible in our lives.

To tap into the magical and powerful optimism that we had in 1977, pull it out, and marvel that we are ready for more.

Play the status card

Trying to influence someone to support your idea? Make sure you know what triggers them in a positive way.

There's a brilliant scene in "Hidden Figures," the 2016 Academy Award nominated film, where one of the African American heroines petitions a white judge to allow her to take engineering night courses at a "Whites Only" school.  She taps into the judge's desire for status -- being the first and leaving a legacy -- and wins her appeal. Take a look at the clip.

Status is one of five triggers that are hardwired into our brains, according to Dr. David Rock's SCARF model of behavior.  

When we understand a person's "neuro trigger" we can appeal to that when trying to influence them, just as Mrs. Jackson did with the judge. You see, neuroscientists have found that our brains are hardwired to maximize reward and minimize danger. A perceived positive reward or emotion makes us act. A negative emotion or perceived threat causes us to flee or avoid the situation or decision.

What's fascinating is that we quickly make decisions based on these triggers usually without even understanding what's triggering us.

The SCARF triggers are:

  • Status – our hardwired social need for esteem and respect, and about our relative importance to others.
  • Certainty – our the ability to predict what will happen.
  • Autonomy – our sense of control over events and opportunity to make choices.
  • Relatedness – the level of comfort and safety we feel with others. We're hardwired to classify people quickly as either friend or foe.
  • Fairness – the perception of fair exchanges between people.

So many attempts to influence people are based on facts and rational thinking. And they fall flat.

It's helpful to be reminded that almost all decisions are based on emotion and our neuro-triggers are calling the shots.


Of Silence and Slow Time

Reflections on creative dormancy and the rebellious nature of silence.

“The task of calling things by their true names, of telling the truth to the best of our abilities, of knowing how we got here, of listening particularly to those who have been silenced in the past, of seeing how the myriad stories fit together and break apart, of using any privilege we may have been handed to undo privilege or expand its scope is each of our tasks. It’s how we make the world.”

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Why we resist new ideas

There are a lot of reasons why good ideas never get adopted. Sometimes they’re not critical to the organization’s goals, require too many resources, or scare the managerial keepers of the status quo.

But there’s another reason that’s rarely acknowledged: we’re trying to solve the wrong problem.

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First Followers

“Wow, that would be amazing for us to do. It could really change how we work together,”  concurred a group of managers at one of the biggest technology companies in the world last week.

“But it’s just not how our culture works,” someone said.

Then the grumbling about the culture began until, as the strategy facilitator, I cut the naysaying short and asked:

Why couldn’t this group start working differently and then open the way for others to follow?  Change has to start somewhere. Why not you? You view yourselves as creative and innovative.

Someone has to start, having the guts to stand alone.

And someone has to be the first to follow, also an act of leadership.

That’s how culture changes and movements start.

Dare to start or be the first follower.

Isaac Asimov on why you need a faciliator

What's the value of a facilitator? "I do not think that cerebration sessions can be left unguided. There must be someone in charge who plays a role equivalent to that of a psychoanalyst... In the same way, a session-arbiter will have to sit there, stirring up the animals, asking the shrewd question, making the necessary comment, bringing them gently back to the point."

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