Back to School

4 Sep

After 30 some years, I am going back to school – beginning graduate studies this month for a masters in Organizational Leadership. Wow!  Suddenly, all the feelings and associations that September brought me as a child and teen re-surface.  I wonder whether I’ll like my classmates, the teacher, the courses.  Will I be inspired or frustrated?  Will my life experience add value in class discussions?  Will the younger students have techno-advantage in using the e-textbooks, chat rooms, etc?

How amusing that, for all we mature, our child-like qualities – positive and negative – awaken and influence us.  How do we make that a good thing?  I plan to selectively call forth some of the most positive characteristics of my youthful student days:

  • Believe that I can.  Returning to the magic time of kindergarten when I believed that I could sing, dance, clown, leap, and make magic.  I will believe that I will be a leader and valuable contributor in my classes.
  • Believe in my teachers.  In six grade, I believed that my teacher, Miss Donovan knew EVERYTHING! Later, in college and continuing ed, I became more cautious and challenging.  I’m going to give respect and high expectations to my graduate professors – I will likely learn lots more with that attitude.
  • Believe that classes make a difference. In school, I was always a sponge for information, insights, exercises, and discussions. In the many years since college graduation, I’ve shifted my thinking that real-world experience is a better teacher.  It’s time to once again, give the classroom its honored role.

Having a master’s degree is one of the required credentials for some of the important work that I want to do.  Beyond checking the box, I’m choosing to embrace the opportunity to celebrate my abilities, gain insights from great teachers, collaborate with gifted students, and incorporate valuable information and experiences into my profession and my life.  I am giving myself the leadership lesson to lead myself with belief and positive anticipation into this endeavor. Stay tuned!

The Magic of Seeds

12 Jul

I have generally been hesitant to plant seeds because I am afraid that they will not thrive in my care. Recently, with seeds and with life in general, I have been realizing that I have less control over outcomes that I have believed.  So, as part of my development plan for 2012, I decided to plant some seeds, have some faith, and partner with the power of nature.

So, I planted sunflower seeds because they are huge and always make me smile. I prepared the recommended planting area and planted 38 seeds in May.  Each Friday, I would anticipate arriving to check the growth.  The first big challenge (for me) came when I had to thin the 6” seedlings. My strength and preference is to nurture all possibilities until decision time; 6” seedlings did not seem like decision time to me. I promised myself to be “all-in” – so I kind of followed the directions and regretfully thinned the 30-some tender plants to 16.  I couldn’t force myself to thin them enough to provide two feet between each seedling and have just 6!  I watered and fed them on the weekends, and thought about them through each week.  They have grown steadily and are now standing strong (even through the extreme winds of last weekend and seven days of dry 1000 plus temperatures).  This morning, I noticed the first flower buds beginning to unfurl.

Through this process, I have been thinking about the experience and the parallel life lessons.  So far, I have five:

  1. Don’t hesitate to plant seeds because you are afraid of the responsibility for their success.

This applies to ideas, suggestions, and life experiences that you have to share with others.  Nature is wise and strong and so are people – both have the power to take an opportunity and make something good happen.

  1. It feels really good to contribute to growth.

I feel a partnership with nature and with my sunflowers; I am helping them thrive.  We have lots of opportunities to experience this with people around us; to give them the nurturing that will help them thrive.

  1. Nature is bigger than me.

I realized that I was figuring that my part was more important than it actually is. Phew, now I can focus on what I can contribute, not control!

  1. Be ready to make hard choices and choose which things to invest in.

It is vital to discard some things so you can focus on truly nurturing the few.  The coming weeks will likely teach me that I should have been more aggressive in selecting fewer sunflower plants to continue growing.

  1. We each have the seeds of greatness inside us.

Some of these seeds are waiting, dormant, like the seeds in the packet.  Without your help, they might never see the light of day. It doesn’t take so much to bring seeds to life – a place to put down some roots, nutrients and water, sunshine.

How can you help awaken the seeds of greatness in someone around you – or even in yourself?  Sunflowers are a dramatic demonstration of the power of the seed and the magic of planting.  Plant a seed of acknowledgement, confidence, or vision for someone you know.  Partner with others to help bring the seed of your own greatness to life.

Luckiest Guy

26 Jun

Kathleen with Dick O’Keefe at ToolBank Baltimore ribbon-cutting ceremony, June 2012

In my travels through life, I’ve had the great fortune to meet some amazing people. Most of them are humble and unsung.  Today I want to introduce you to one, Dick O’Keefe.  He is a Baltimorean through and through.  Those of you who are also are native, know what that means.  After a rich career as a middleman in the beverage industry (at one time Baltimore was the world’s leading producer of beverages), he is now succeeding at a second career as a real estate developer with a heartfelt vision and mission.  He is rescuing obsolete manufacturing buildings that once formed the heartbeat of Baltimore, near the harbor and the railways, and rehabilitating them for use by non-profits who are working to support community-building, stability and pride in Baltimore neighborhoods.  This is what I call a win-win-win.  And like the rarity of getting three cherries at a slot machine, or a Triple Crown winner, it is equally rare to find someone who has created a three-way winning formula.  The buildings are renewed, the non-profits are boosted, the clients of the nonprofits and Baltimore itself benefit.  Wow!

I met Dick O’Keefe at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the latest non-profit to occupy one of his warehouses, Baltimore Community ToolBank [an amazing organization that lends tools to non-profits and community groups for landscaping and construction projects].  As the landlord, he was as proud as a father.  When I shook his hand, he said, I’m the luckiest guy I know; I’ve had great luck my entire life. And I believe there’s a reason why. He had my attention!

Dick shared with me that he was raised under his grandmother’s strict tutelage and that she died when he was 20.  He said from that time forward, he has only had wonderful things come into his life – beyond any reason or expectation.  He believes that it is because God has decided it’s easier to send him these gifts than to deal with his grandmother’s nagging! Pause to smile.

Brilliant! I realized that such concrete support from an unequivocal advocate (especially such a well-placed advocate) gives you an incredible foundation for self-confidence, self-worth, inspiration – AND high expectations and accountability.

There are, of course, at least two leadership lessons in all this.

  1. What is your opportunity to act like a grandmother at the left-hand of God for someone in your organization or your life?  What would that look like?
  2. What more could you accomplish in becoming your own best advocate, acting with determination to serve, and believing that only good things come to you.

Thank you, Dick, and Dick’s grandmother for a lesson we can all use.

PS  If you are part of a non-profit that could benefit from having a visionary and committed landlord in Baltimore City, contact Dick O’Keefe at 410-207-4713.

Look Around – Look Closer

24 Apr

Who do you see where you look around your work place?  A best friend, your teammates, a person that you think wants your job, your boss, that new guy who just started last week?  Imagine that each of them plays a dual role – the one that matches their job title AND a role on TEAM YOU! Imagine that each person is your champion, gives you heads up on key news, keeps you inspired, humble, real, shares insights into your Blind Spots (the ones you need to fix AS WELL AS the Blind Spots that cause you to undervalue your most special gifts). Imagine how you can turn this imaginary scene into reality in a way that helps you build your self-awareness, confidence, productivity AND opportunity for career advancement. What is the secret? It’s simple.  Focus on being really present. Be purposeful and aware; seek ways to help others move forward and seek ways that others may help you. Ditch small talk and replace it with meaningful exchanges with those with whom you spend the majority of your waking hours. When you really look closer, you will make magic will happen for you, for the work you do with others, and for others.

Step One: Notice others and give each person a verbal gift every day

Step Two: Ask questions that you want to know the answers to. Find out what others are thinking…and dreaming

Step Three: Listen to what others want to tell you. Really hear them and ask questions to make sure. Encourage frank and honest feedback

Step Four: Connect people and resources – use your network to move everyone’s agendas forward

Step Four: Follow up – show that you really are interested

Step Five: Ask for support and assistance for your work agenda and for your professional agenda

Doing More with Less, Part 3

17 Apr

As I am facilitating workshops in government agencies and private companies, the same challenge quickly comes to the surface almost every time: Frustration with insufficient human resources to handle expectations.  Here are a few tips

  • Communicate for results

Add explanations to your directions, delegations. Anticipate stumbling points and provide suggestions or work-arounds. Give feedback that conveys what “good” looks like. Inform your supervisor of what you and your team need to be more productive. Provide heads up on changes in workflow so your staff can prepare and adjust.

  • Measure what counts

Partner with colleagues where there are friction points in productivity. Make a pact to move projects through without hang-ups. Measure and celebrate smooth flow, improved processing or delivery times; reduced revisions; increased quality.

  • Improve the flow

Challenge the status quo: “We’ve always done it that way.” Streamline steps; use technology such as document sharing. Do it right the first time; Be more thorough – instead of advancing one step – push through to completion.

  •  Work to your strengths

Find your personal most productive time of day and protect that precious time. Avoid meetings. Close your door (with a note requesting no disturbance for an hour or so. Ask friends and family to avoid contacting during your peak performance times. Focus your attention on your top priorities for the day

  •  Maintain your own accountability

Set productivity goals for yourself and rate your performance as the end of the day.  Look for ways to improve your self-rating over time.  Track for a month and reward yourself for improved performance.  If others are holding you back, develop ways to enable them to be more productive also.

Harvesting Pearls

13 Feb

On the Chesapeake Bay, the winter months bring oyster-harvesting season.  We love oysters nearly all ways, and especially raw on the half-shell – such an incredible and unique treat!  The fascinating thing about oysters is that they are generally open and relaxed in their natural environment, and clamp shut only when threatened or out of the water. When opening raw oysters, the key is to find that small point at the hinge of the shell that a sharp knife can penetrate and release the oyster’s grip.  In that instant, the oyster goes from impenetrable to easily opened – and offers its rich bounty inside.

Skip Case shucking Chesapeake Bay oysters

While watching my husband open (shuck) oysters last evening, I saw a parallel to the challenge of finding a way to connect and understand people who hold their thoughts very close.  As managers and leaders, many of us have encountered someone who has very strong defenses; who fends off our attempts to connect and open a meaningful dialogue. Sometimes they may feel threatened – or just out of their preferred environment. Perhaps, we ourselves have chosen to avoid letting others know us and what we have to offer.

Is the solution a sharp knife?  Ouch – NO!

What is the magic technique that enables a person (rather than an oyster) to release that tight grip? First, remember that each of us has an environment in which we are relaxed and open – doing our thing with grace and effectiveness.  If you become the threat or environment in which another person shuts tight, approach with an honest desire to understand.  No preconceptions and judgments. Be present in the moment. Provide space for context and back-story. Ask questions like: “What is most important to you in this situation?”  “What do you think we are overlooking?”  “If you were in charge, what would you do differently?”  Find a question that becomes the point of entry that breaks the grip and brings out the brilliance that the other person has to offer. AND when you find the oyster (or the pearl) inside, be sure to celebrate its value.

Fear Not Your Blind Spot

7 Feb

Ouch!!  When we hear “blind spot,” we immediately imagine some personal deficit, irritable habit, lack of emotional intelligence that others see in us and to which we are blind.  As each of us always has “room to grow,” you may indeed have one or more blind spots of a negative nature. That’s a conversation for another day!

What I want to talk about today, is a different kind of blind spot that is even more valuable for you to uncover. It is the blind spot of a natural gift that you have not yet fully developed.

One of the ironies of life is that the things that come the most naturally to you are the qualities and skills that you may value the least.  If something comes easily for us, we may think that it must not be really valuable to others.  If something is difficult for us to master or do consistently, then it must be worthwhile to pursue and therefore, valuable to others and to the world.

Good news! – such thinking may create your blind spot.  We are always searching for our strengths and the most valuable contribution that we can make.  We strive, study, practice, focus, drive ourselves – mainly to do those things that do not come so naturally.  What about those things that you can do “with your eyes closed,” “like breathing,” and that energize you as you are doing them?  Those are your strengths – and often your blind spots.

SO –  fear not your Blind Spot. Ask for feedback from your friends, family and colleagues. Ask what is it that you do better than anyone else they know….and listen.   Open your eyes and ears.  Then, seek to do more of those things where you excel –  where you feel like you are just being and realize that amazing things are coming from inside you. Look for opportunities to be in those zones and make the difference…naturally!

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