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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.

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.

Oh Pioneers!

11 Jan

Early in the New Year, we often look for inspirations to energize ourselves to tackle new challenges. Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of experiencing firsthand, up-close the historic settlements in Apache Pass in southeast Arizona.  What a rugged country! Stony meadows, mostly dry land, hills and mountains at 5,000 feet.  It was actually snowing as we hiked in to see the remains of the Overland Mail Company’s depot from 1865 and the remains of Fort Bowie, 1869-1890. What a story! I celebrated the determination of John Butterfield who won this lucrative contract of $600,000 per year in 1857 and spent the next year and $1 million setting up the route. His company rounded up over 200 coaches, almost 2000 horses and mules, and 1200 employees, from superintendents, drivers and conductors to harness makers and blacksmiths, to service the line. Employees were sent out along the route, building 200 stations and helping build bridges or ensure roads were passable. The mail and passengers went twice a week along the route and by contract Butterfield’s stage coaches covered the  2,800 miles in 25 days – through all kinds of weather, confrontations, sickness, mud, raging rivers, etcetera. Yesterday I stood in the Apache Pass station, looking around 360o at the desolately beautiful countryside. I could easily imagine the early pioneers who settled the station, their interactions with Cochise’s and his Apache tribe, cougars, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, oppressive heat, and more. I imagined the rickety stage coaches jolting over the rocky road, the hope of the passengers for a new life at the other end, the poignant messages in the letters and packages.  That’s American spirit! I found a wagonload of inspiration to tackle tough challenges in 2012 with the confidence that we still carry the DNA from our ancestors whose pluck and persistence has made America!


5 Oct

Last week, I was asked to speak to a group of administrative assistants at a federal agency who needed some inspiration and team-building spirit in the face of downsizing that is resulting in increased work volume, more executives to support, and less funds for training.  I immediately remembered the wise guidance of Ken Blanchard in Self-Leadership and The One Minute Manager.  I took it down from my bookshelf and read it cover-to-cover in 45 minutes. With my client’s agreement to provide a copy of this book to each of the participants, I plunged into showcasing the key points on PowerPoint slides.  Much to my surprise (and delight) I realized that this timeless message was just what I needed to coach myself into better effectiveness. I had stalled in my own professional progression toward high competence and high commitment – AND I was exhibiting all the classic symptoms…reduced confidence, avoidance of tough issues, isolation. Eureka! What a glorious moment of self-awareness PLUS the tool I needed to get back in gear.  I took to heart the opening guidance:

Empowerment is something someone gives you.

Self-leadership is what you do to make it work.

Using the book, I did a quick self-diagnosis and discovered what I needed in that moment to get unstuck.  I thought about my resources and I got really clear about what to ask for and who to ask. I used the magic words  “I need” followed by thoughtful specifics. I shared openly that the request is what I need to be successful.  I received immediate, specific assistance and guidance – exactly what I needed. Then amazingly, the clouds parted and I glimpsed myself being successful and confident in the challenging situations that I had been avoiding. Talk about win-win, the admin assistants also found encouragement and inspiration and I was able to joyfully engage with them. As Ken says,

“Ultimately, it’s in your own best interest to accept responsibility for getting what you need to succeed in the workplace.”

I second that motion.

The Secret to Managing Time

13 Aug

“My biggest challenge is TIME MANAGEMENT.” I guess that I hear that from about 75% of my coaching clients during our get-acquainted session.  I always ask: How many people do you manage or lead?  What do you not seem to have time for?  The most common answer is:

I don’t have time to do my own work, because I am always helping my staff with their work.  I know I should guide them and send them back to try again, it just seems faster to take it and show them what good looks like.

This is the common plight of many managers and leaders who rose to their positions by doing outstanding work. It is VERY challenging to transition from star player to team manager – delivering even greater accomplishments THROUGH OTHERS.

"Managing is getting paid for home runs that someone else hits" Casey Stengel

Have you ever seen the manager of a baseball team run out and take a fielder’s position?  Or, a symphony conductor leave the podium to play the flutist’s part?

Think of yourself as a “former player” who now is 150% committed to developing each player on your team. Then, the next time that controlling drive arises and you see your hand reaching across the desk to take a report, project plan, or some other deliverable away from your team member for the purpose of “fixing” it, think of Casey or Arthur Fiedler and stay in your manager role.  If you really struggle, put a Yankees cap or a baton in your office where you can see it.

Two magical things will happen:  You will thrill to see the home runs that your team begins hitting AND, with a little practice, my guess is that you will be amazed at all the extra time you will have to manage!