Tag Archives: leadership

Focus vs exploring options

I am preparing for a session with my coach this morning and slept in an hour more than usual. Sometimes when my body needs it, I just allow it to rest. After last week’s travel, and disrupted sleep schedule, it has been lovely to have 4 nights in a row of 8-10 hours of sleep.

But of course, my writing time is a little cut short for the morning, so I sit, brainstorming what I most care to say. I went back and read a bunch of previous posts, scanning the “data” for trends, themes. Then I considered my worries about the upcoming coaching session. I turned in my homework only 5 minutes before the deadline this time, not a half day in advance like last time.

I wondered about all the resistance, and the fact that committing dreams or goals to paper makes me feel some pressure about it. I asked my husband last night about what he wanted to be when he grew up (at age 5-6) and he wanted to be a farmer like his grandfather. But then his family moved, and the farming industry changed. I reflected on my own memories of being asked that question.

I typically had a long list of all the things I wanted to do someday. But I remember being disappointed with someone who laughed at me kindly and told me I could not do ALL of those things. I would have to pick one, maybe two. What?!? I was sad that I would have to choose and I wanted to keep all doors open.

Back in the day, in our parents era, that was the norm: to choose one main career goal and to stick to that choice for 30+ years. Pension plans were built on that principle. To move around too much was flaky, seen as irresponsible and perhaps self-indulgent.

I had an active imagination and knew that everyone in my family were teachers, and that I also considered that a possibility, but did not want to limit myself. Fortunately the world has changed, and people seldom have just one career. The possibilities now seem limitless, but that does not mean we can have all our choices all at once.

Now that I am getting older, I recognize the value of making a career choice for one particular period of time (say, a decade) and fully embracing that choice, allowing ourselves to go deep into that field of endeavor, really to learn it well. Any area where we practice extensively and develop a body of knowledge is a place we can make a contribution.

But then there comes a time when some of us (and maybe this is my a.d.d. talking, or just my curiosity about other fields and the roads not taken) long for a transition to something new. I had hoped to get into the “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program at my company but found out yesterday that I will not advance to the interview round. I was a bit disappointed, but strangely felt relieved as well.

Working for a very large corporation for nearly 11 years, this era is coming to a close for me. I long for more freedom and less bureaucracy than this setting can deliver. I long for more innovation and less forms to fill out in order to get work accomplished. But that specific direction has yet to solidify for me.

Perhaps it has been a long time since I worked toward a particular dream or goal. I did dream of becoming a manager, and I achieved that dream. I dreamed of travel and work where I would get to do that much more often, and I achieved that dream as well. So in a sense, I have accomplished some of the goals that I had for myself, definitely not along the path I had expected.

I believe in staying open to opportunities, and saying yes to experiences where I might grow and learn. But now that I have achieved a certain level of success, I return to the question of where I want to focus. I long to figure out what contributions I most want to make, where I can provide the most value in the world.

This is a road we all travel, I realize. Perhaps making those choices and sticking to those decisions has been more challenging for me, or maybe I am operating on an old belief system that needs upgrading. In any case, I would love to hear from others that have made big career changes in their lives. What were your fears? How did you discover what you truly wanted? Were there ever times when you doubted your new direction?

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Bias in human evolution

project implicitA friend of mine recently posted a very personal story of his pain at the discovery of his own implicit bias despite having married a woman of color. The Implicit Bias Test is something you can take if you want to explore bias in yourself. I was touched by his admission but it made me realize that people still have a lot of unnecessary guilt about bias. I wanted to write about it because I realize so many probably suffer shame on this front.

Dr. Heidi Grant, a psychologist who presented to our Women’s Leadership annual conference last August, explained to us that bias is human. It is a part of our brains that is wired for us to be able to make decisions quickly and have shortcuts to protect our safety. So to feel guilty about it not necessary. Neuroscience has showed that there is a biological basis for bias.

So the idea that we can somehow get rid of bias is not practical. What we need to do is develop awareness of the biases that we have, so we can take action making decisions more fairly. One method that worked for orchestras, that traditionally hired men due to implicit bias, was to put up a screen so that the performer could not be seen during the audition. This played a role in getting many more women into competitive orchestras.

As a manager, one way to reduce bias is in hiring from a pool of candidates, and have only one candidate of a diverse origin, and say three other candidates you are interviewing, you are very unlikely to hire the diverse candidate. If you have just one other person of that minority (be in gender, race, etc) the likelihood that you will give everyone a fair shot increases substantially. Another way to reduce bias is to have a structured list of questions, and to ask the same questions to all candidates.

A number of studies have shown us how diversity drives innovation. And innovation is what drives economic growth. From a perspective of someone who has lost their job due to increased automation, that may not provide much comfort. Indeed, part of our problem is that our “free market” rewards the innovators much more than workers. That unfortunately leads to further polarization of resources, and exacerbates the distance between “haves” and have-nots” in our country.

While there is a systemic good arising from a more diverse society, recognized at many levels of corporate and government leadership (though not by the U.S. President, unfortunately), there are challenges as well. In order to address these challenges, we are required to evolve our own consciousness, as humans, to be able to fully use all the talents and capabilities we have. This is no easy task.

I often worry if the behavior in this country will degrade substantially while we have rhetoric that devalues whole categories or nations of people. We have seen some evidence that this may be true. But it also forces us to have some honest discussions about our future, and about what kind of society we want to build. I am reminded that a majority of the country does not agree with the President, and is working for positive change.

I am reminded that those of us who have privilege in this very digital economy need to pay attention to the people who have been left out since the 1980’s when the gap in the middle class began to widen substantially. We have many examples in history when this has led to disaster. This has led to scapegoating and devaluation of human life at many points in human history.

This awareness and consciousness of bias and privilege must be at the forefront of our thinking about solutions to this “great divide.” We can no longer ignore the suffering of so many people, and build ourselves into little cul-de-sacs of isolated individuals and families. Our well-being depends on a social fabric which must hold us together.

We must talk with people with whom we do not agree, learn from them, strive to understand their perspectives. I believe this is the only way to repair the rifts that have grown in our political life. We cannot afford to remain in our little echo chambers, in dialogue only with people with whom we agree.

I am beginning to look for those opportunities to engage with people that may hold different opinions from mine. Not just online, but in person and face to face. They are not easy to find, but I am fairly certain our survival as a species on this earth depends on realizing we are in this together.

 

 

 

SKOL!

The Vikings had awesome playoff game and though I am a fair weather fan, it sure was fun to watch!

Vikings

My hubby loves football. While I have always thought it was kind of a violent sport, I have gotten a little swept up in Vikings fever. It is an interesting phenomenon, uniting around a team, just because I live in Minnesota. But the thing about sport is that it can unite people of different religions, political beliefs and ethnic backgrounds.

Perhaps that is what makes the sport so American in its popularity. Of course, it is catching on around the world. Several of my Mexican colleagues are NFL fans. They also like soccer, but that requires more patience because it does not tend to be as high-scoring or action-packed as American football.

I am posting this on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.  I do not have particular activism plans for the holiday this year. I just got back from a visit up north to my folks, so I have errands to do before returning to work. I will re-watch the movie Coco with a friend, because it is a beautiful movie. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. If you are not into animated movies, make an exception and go see it. I am serious, you will not regret it.

CocoVisually it is a beautiful movie. It is all about pursuing your soul’s purpose no matter what your family wants you to do. It is also about the role of music and family in Mexican life and culture. I was heartened by the fact that, while we have a President that hates Mexicans, this movie feels like a delightful tribute to so much that is amazing and unique about Mexican culture.

This MLK Day I am reflecting on the past year and on the fact that I enjoy a great deal of privilege in the community where I live. Last year on January 21, 2017 I participated in the Women’s March here in Minnesota in order to be part of what I felt was a long-delayed movement for change. I met all kinds of people who seemed to be as committed as I was to making sure our political landscape will not look like it did in 2016. It was energizing and exciting. People made some pretty awesome signs and even though it was chilly out (it is Minnesota, and St. Paul tends to be very cold in January) the crowd warmed my heart.

Capitol women's march

Photo taken January 21, 2017 – St. Paul, MN

After the march, I had to consider what role I wanted to play in the next phase of feminist activity. I decided to make a monthly recurring contribution to Planned Parenthood. I had donated money to Hillary’s campaign on a regular basis, and respected her career in public service. Even though I agree that she made some fatal errors in her campaign, I found it incredible that the Republicans endorsed a person with zero public service for President.

Obviously it felt like a cruel blow to feminists everywhere, and I was especially concerned that we preserve reproductive freedoms many of us have taken for granted. Many women in their 30’s and 20’s do not fully appreciate the contribution that our mothers’ generation made to the movement. It was not until 1974 (the year I was born) that single, widowed or divorced women could access credit on their own without having a male co-signer (Equal Credit Opportunity Act).

I strongly believe in a woman’s ability to make choices over her own body without interference, safely and for what reasons she deems necessary. I find it incredible how many male lawmakers believe that it is their responsibility to police women’s bodies and choices. But regulating reproduction, far from an innocent wish to “protect the unborn” as they may have you believe, is an effort to dis-empower and control women.

Period.

My Mexican grandmother on my father’s side had 7 girls, 4 boys, and probably another 2-3 pregnancies that resulted in miscarriages. If it were not for her insistence that her children receive as good educations as they could afford, they may not have succeeded in the way they did. I find it fascinating that Dad’s two youngest daughters both became nuns rather than having children. My Dad always told me, “don’t get married young and start having children. I want more for you than that.”

I want more too. And something different. I have one sister, and neither of us have aspired to having children as part of our life goals.

I respect and honor other women’s choices for their lives, their bodies and their families. We should expect nothing less.

Bringing this post back to the original excitement about Vikings fever, I was thinking through the women’s roles in cultures throughout history. Grandma on my Mom’s side was Swedish in origin, a tough, smart and stubborn woman who lived to be 101. She went to college in her 50’s after raising three children. She was principled and strong, and she never backed down from her beliefs.

The spirits of my grandmothers are with me now, as I honor their sacrifices and continue to protect the legacy they fought to establish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imaginary delegation

Last February I read a book that changed how I think about women in leadership, and the gap between household responsibilities for men and women. It was called Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu, and I have written about it before.

One of the concepts that hit home for me was the idea that we sometimes get resentful of our spouses, partners or even coworkers about things that have not gotten done, even when we never made a specific request about those tasks. We all have those times. Maybe you wish your spouse would decide on the meals and grocery shop for a change. For some reason, you have always done it (maybe like me you are pickier about the foods you eat than your husband) and things get busy at work, so you do not have the energy this week to do it.

But rather than ask your husband to do it, you just sigh, feel sorry for yourself and think: “Why doesn’t HE ever make the decisions about this stuff and offer to shop?” Well, probably because you are the one that usually does it, without any prompting. You may think, “nobody has to ask ME to do this!” and sulk because you know that it saves money to shop at the grocery store instead of eating out.

When I asked my husband if he could go to the store, he willingly and cheerfully did so, and asked what was on my list. Instead of spending energy being resentful and getting annoyed about it, I could have saved myself the trouble and just asked for help, instead of assuming I had to do it. Since people have an easier time hearing your actual words than reading your mind, opening your mouth to graciously ask for help is a better option.

We all have habits and patterns in our relationships and roles which we play both at home and in the workplace. Sometimes these roles and “job descriptions” need to shift and change depending on our overall workload. When we take on a new challenge at work, or commit to something important to us, we may need to ask for help from our spouse on household tasks. This is very hard for me, I realize.

I grew up in a household where Mom stayed home until going back to work when my sister was in middle school, and I was in high school. She and my Dad had a very different division of labor than I aspired to in my life. So I sometimes forget that women are not necessarily “supposed” to grocery shop, plan menus and take responsibility for food prep at home. Indeed I know a lot of households where the opposite is true.

At work this applies when I have a task that could easily be done by a colleague and perhaps they are better at it too, but somehow it ends up on my to-do list. I realize that, if I do not ask anyone else to do it, nobody will “take it away” from me and get it done. I need to use my words, not my imagination to ask for help, and I need to be specific about what needs to be done, though not necessarily how to do the task. I do not enjoy micro-managing, so delegating the responsibility involves stepping out of the way to allow someone else to bring their own approach to the job.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It allows us to do what we are best at doing, without getting bogged down in a lot of details or menial tasks that may deplete our energy and time. But some of us who are still learning how to not take on too much, or who lived happily as single people, need to question our assumptions about who does what at home and at work. If we have a spouse or partner that supports our growth and development, and someone who understands that household management is a shared responsibility, we can probably negotiate these matters.

I am working on recognizing those times when I feel resentment but the real battle is going on in my own mind, rather with another person. I have a situation at work where I realize I used to take on responsibilities that are actually the job of the other manager. He has been blissfully ignorant and relying on me to do these tasks, but I now aim to be more specific with him about his responsibilities. I realize this will go against my “go along get along” attitude at work, and my concept about being a “team player” but I have enabled his blissful ignorance for too long.

As I am less tolerant now about certain things at work, given my overall dissatisfaction with the role I am in, I realize I have less to lose. So what if he gets annoyed that I am asking him to do his job! I respectfully do not care. Wow, there’s power in that.

 

 

 

Bienvenidos a México

I am in Mexico City today to conduct three interviews for our clinical research specialist opening in the local office here. I also get to visit with a colleague who is no longer in my group but is one of my favorite people in my company. I am grateful for this opportunity to connect with her, and she agreed to help with the interviews.

It will be a busy Tuesday but I wanted to check in and say: if you have never been to a big city that is constantly alive and awake, come to Mexico City. You think New York City has options? Pshaw! It has nothing on this city. I’m serious! I am in Colonia Napoles which is a nice part of the city, near where my office is located, and the neighborhood of Frida Kahlo, apparently.

novit chocolates

Look at this adorable little bag of chocolates from the hotel. I know, I get excited about small things. But it’s the little things that make me happy, you know?

I started reflecting on the fact that having a U.S. passport is a privilege I should not take for granted. Then I started thinking of all the potential leadership development projects I could undertake with various Mexicanas and other Latinas I know. I got really excited thinking about this possibility and a little chill down my spine.

Oh, I have to pay attention to those signs. And I do. It is good right now that I have a job that affords me the luxury of traveling down here. I do not take that for granted. I’m starting to re-frame what I am doing and think about other ways I can execute my personal life goals in a way that is meaningful to me.

Cheers & have a great week. If you love Mexico as much as I do, check out my previous post on this topic which has better pics. Adios, amigos/as!

Acceptance

We are on the final day of our 2.5 day team meeting in Miami. The first day was skills development, the second day was partnerships and today we will do some reflection and some re-assessment of priorities. Hopefully we can write out some commitments before we leave for our home offices and develop some check-in points for the next 6 months left in our fiscal year.

I have seen some very engaged discussion and participation within this team and I am grateful to have reconnected. I found out today that I was not selected for the Leadership Development Facilitator position I applied for at my company, ironically enough. But this is actually what I am doing already on my team, in many ways. I realize I will need to re-commit myself to the next phase of work, while I ready myself for a new role in 6-12 months. I will do the “homework” needed to get me there, while remaining in a role where I provide coaching and leadership where I am now.

Acceptance

I commit to bring my best self to the work every day, even as I consider what is the next step along the path. I also commit to expressing my truths and speaking up when I disagree as well as accepting when I do not have the final word on decisions. That last part presents the biggest challenge to me, of course. But life has a way of helping us develop resilience through our experiences. If it were all easy, we would not grow as human beings. But we do grow, and I look at this as an opportunity to exercise my patience, and increase my resilience. It will all serve me, in the end, whether I see the exact path or not.

 

Leaders as Multipliers

A week ago I applied for a position as a “Leadership Development Facilitator” at my company. Because hiring can be slow at my very large company, I am not expecting to hear anything back in the next 2-4 weeks. The position had been posted since May, but there have been various hiring freezes where I work, so I am fairly certain they are holding the line on hiring until the end of the quarter (October).

Throughout my life, I have had many experiences in leadership, and I feel I could contribute to the development of other leaders at my company. Given my unique perspective, as an operations manager in an international clinical research organization, my approach may be different than others in this role. I sure hope I get the chance to interview for the position. Given that it required someone who had second language skills (in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, German or French) and the requirements, I think it may be hard for them to locate the right talent for the role.

I have an urge to market myself for this job though. There would be a lot of presentation and group facilitation work required, using both “off the shelf” and custom designed content. I would be working with managers, directors and possibly VP level leaders to help them develop skills to be better leaders. I would be coaching, using active facilitation techniques, possibly managing virtual classrooms. I would need to maintain energy, engagement and effectiveness in learning content delivery for programs that span 3 to 5 days in duration. Some parts of the job description scare the pants off me (like that last one)! 

I am an introvert and I require a lot of personal time, solitude and time away from people to bring my “best game” to those interactions I have at work. In the past few years, I really have stretched myself in that way, stepping outside my comfort zone, and advocating for my team, and for ideas that matter to me. Actually I tested as an extrovert on the MBTI for the first time in my life last year (though very much in the middle between I and E). All of my previous personality tests have shown introversion (though I am kind of in the middle), so what was my reaction? The test is WRONG! I know I am an introvert, and my personality has not changed.

The role I am in now, and the need to interact with others in different business units, countries, geographic units, and functions requires me to do a lot of work with others. So even though I strongly identify as an introvert, I tell people that “I play an extrovert at work.” I am in meetings for ~40-60% of my days, depending on the particular week. While that is not ideal, I know I can do it.  And the biggest part of my desire to do LD facilitation is what I can learn from the leaders who will come through the programs. I view all work as a “learning lab” in which we can practice skills and constantly learn from other smart people around us. 

multipliers

As I manager, I strive to be a Multiplier, because I know that is the best way to help my team members develop, and to get them to bring forth their best thinking. What if I could help other leaders within my company learn how to better leverage their people-power to achieve their goals and continue to cultivate a learning environment? I get totally jazzed when I think about that. Last week, at our Science and Technology conference, I was reminded of how many brilliant scientists and engineers work for this company. Even though part of me fantasizes about self-employment and a life outside the corporate world, another part of me really wants to make a difference within this organization. Plus, my hubby wants to buy a house in a couple of years. So you know, financial security seems like a wise choice as a newly married chica.

The best leaders keep moving forward, despite challenges, despite some internal doubts they may have. They try to find the best people for any job that needs to be done, and make sure they support people rather than getting in the way. The best leaders are able to communicate a vision for the future and also keep people grounded in the reality of today. The best leaders do not disparage others, or try to blame other people for their own failings. The best leaders take full responsibility for their mistakes, take good care of their employees, and make sure that people do not suffer for being courageous. I strive to be one of these leaders in the company where I am, and I do my best to live up to that idea. I know I do not always succeed, but I am committed to getting better at it, and to lift others up around that can be great leaders as well.

What is your vision of a great leader? I would love it if you let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for what you are willing to share.