Category Archives: Productivity

Monday Morning Moment – Grumpy Begets Grumpy – Understanding It, Not Reacting, and Turning It Around

Photo Credit: Grant Wood, Wikipedia

My poor husband. The last month has been fairly brutal. His father had a massive stroke and died a week later. Between travel to be with his dad in his last days and travel for the funeral, Dave had a packed work schedule. In the midst of that, a friend died. After PopPop’s funeral and our friend’s funeral, we settled back into another busy work week. Interrupted for me by a vicious stomach bug. Interrupted for Dave by a vigilant attempt to avoid said stomach bug. We saw little of each other as he slept in the guest room and tried to stay clear of my germs, except for kindly offering me provisions. The day that I was for sure well, he got the same bug, even harder hit than I was.

So sick, he was forced to miss the majority of a week of meetings he had helped plan and was looking forward to. Such is life when sick.

At some point in all this, I began to get grumpy.

Don’t get me wrong…there was grace upon grace for all we experienced this month. Grace upon grace.

Still, in strain, stress, and suffering we can discover a measure of what’s going on inside our hearts by what comes out of our mouths (Matthew 12:34, Proverbs 8:13 ).

Standing Up Under Pressure – Tom Macartney

My grumpiness was a product of assumptions about how life should go and arrogance that it should always go well for me. Right?

I was frustrated that Dave had to get sick after all our safeguards against it. Also frustrated that he had to miss meetings he should have been able to attend.

With both of us recovering from heart grief and grumbling tummies, grumpiness came as a default reaction. Sadly, toward each other. [I have asked his forgiveness already, by the way., and he mine].

This happens with grumpiness. Whether we are prone to it in our closest relationships or in more casual work or friend situations, grumpy begets grumpy.

As a teenager, our middle child, Nathan, had waves of grumpiness easily turned around with some cheese or a sandwich. The quicker I assessed he was hungry (“hangry” before that became a word), the faster he returned to his usual, more fun self…once his blood sugar was on the rise.

Health Check: the Science of ‘Hangry’  or Why Some People Get Grumpy When They’re Hungry – Amanda Salis

When we have chronically grumpy coworkers, they can bring a whole team down, unless we are proactive in responding to them.

Writer and entrepreneur Will Jeakle gives us a humorous and insightful read on Three Tips for Dealing with a Grumpy Employee:

1. Recognize analysis paralysis.

2. Change the subject.

3. Put Eeyore in charge of a project. – Will Jeakle

Photo Credit: pngimg

[Click on the link above for Jeakle’s fascinating commentary on the subject. Helpful also if you are the grumpy coworker.]

One author actually talked about how being grumpy and bad-tempered can have a positive impact on your career – but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. [So, Nathan, keep popping that protein when your grumpiness comes on.]

Why It Pays to Be Grumpy and Bad-Tempered – Zaria Gorvett

Grumpy begets grumpy if it goes unchecked. When we are grumpy to others, over and over, it is almost impossible not to react in kind. And I don’t mean kindly.

Habits can develop that lead to us isolate ourselves…especially as we age.Photo Credit: QuoteFancy

Canadian writer Ian Fortey wrote  a somewhat coarse and humorous (unless you’re its subject) piece on getting older. When he covered the general grumpiness of today’s older people, he made this observation:

“It doesn’t help that today’s old-folks were raised at a time when it wasn’t considered cool to talk about your problems in any kind of constructive way. You sucked it up and lived with it….Well, if you “suck it up” for 80 years it eventually just overflows onto everyone who walks past your house.”

Realtor and writer Gary Woltal also speaks with understanding on this same topic: The negativity [in old age] comes from regrets they harbor about missteps in their judgment, hard feelings about words inflicted upon them along the way, omissions of things they should have said and done, and just life’s disappointments…Unfortunately, I think they also believe they will have no good legacy. The fact is starting TODAY we ALL can have a great legacy if we work at it. We all should not go through life with hard hearts.

Check yourself in the mirror today and use a few role models I have used on how you want to exit stage left someday. Women or men, think of these great celebrities who left us with nary a discouraging word said about them. Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Stewart, Fred Rogers, Red Skelton, Mother Teresa. Gary Woltal

Some Day You Won’t Have Me to Kick Around Anymore – Gary Woltal

Previously I wrote on negativism and its cost and cure which you might also find helpful if you missed it first time around.

Dave and I are off to a new week…all forgiven…and hopefully not too wounded or wary from the brushes with grumpiness of the weeks prior. If you’re finding yourself in a season of grumpiness, my hope is that you can turn that ship around before grumpy begins to define you.

We all don’t have to be saints, but we can leave behind people feeling like this about us: “When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so that when you die, you’re the one smiling, and everyone around you is crying.”Gary Woltal

Three Tips for Dealing with a Grumpy EmployeeWill Jeakle

Health Check: the Science of ‘Hangry’  or Why Some People Get Grumpy When They’re Hungry – Amanda Salis

Monday Morning Moment – Negativism – Its Cost and Cure – Deb Mills Writer

How to Raise Happy Teenagers – Michael Odell

Monday Morning Moment – Operational Transparency – Opening Up Windows to Our Lives at Work, Home, and Community

Photo Credit: Flickr

Let’s take a close look at our work and life for a moment. When product and customer service are both excellent, we experience the greatest value as both employees and consumers. However, when there are processes at work that we can’t really visualize or don’t understand, we may question the value of either the product or the service. Especially when those processes are obscured in their availability. Especially if when we seek to see and understand, we remain without adequate information. We can grow disheartened, disgruntled, and even repelled.

Let’s have a look.

We could take a deep dive into government operations or into a large for-profit or non-profit, but let’s just look first at a very normal experience of a popular fast-food restaurant. Without naming the company, this chain is known worldwide for providing consistently good food. When the product is excellent, we don’t feel the need to look inside the operation (or kitchen, so to speak). As for customer service, that’s another matter.

In the rush of lunch-time ordering and food delivery at the drive-through, a young mother with two small children in-tow has to leave her car and come inside the restaurant twice for corrections on her order. One correction was just the number of chicken pieces (four when she asked for and paid for six). The counter staff person couldn’t take the four-piece back, in accordance with health standards, and give her a six-piece. So instead of just saying to the customer, “We’re so sorry. Keep the four-piece and I’ll get you a six-piece”, she tossed the four-piece in the trash can and returned, without emotion, with a six-piece. The rest of the exchange, on both sides, was polite but not restorative for either.

The mom will probably go back…one day…but this did not build the trust that could have been built. The employee also was probably not left with any sense of appreciation for how hard everyone was working behind the counter for demanding customers.

What does this have to do with operational transparency?

Well, given the perceived quality of the product, little transparency in food preparation was required. That wasn’t the issue. The small but significant dilemma here was the transparency of the customer service model (which was bare-bones “correct the problem” without consideration of customer experience or inconvenience – or so it seemed, from the employee’s response to the mother).

Harvard Business School professor Ryan W. Buell defines operational transparency as the deliberate design of windows into and out of the organization’s operations to help customers and employees alike understand and appreciate the value being created. To determine when and how to design such windows, managers must understand when and how customers and employees want to open up operations to scrutiny—and when both parties would prefer that work be undertaken behind the scenes.*

*Operational Transparency – Ryan W. Buell

Is too much of a company’s operations behind the scenes? Are we expected to just trust that companies, governments, and civic organizations are working with our best interests in mind?Photo Credit: Flickr

The article by Ryan W. Buell linked above is a brilliant examination, with lots of real-world examples, of how important transparency is in our operations. For internal and external outcomes – both with product and employee/customer relations. [Don’t miss the read.]

Back to restaurants, the food service industry is really starting to run with this. One of our favorite restaurants is Mezeh Mediterranean Grill. It is a highly visual food experience. You order at the counter with the help of customer-savvy servers who guide the diner through the process.Photo Credit: Reston Now

Employees not helping the diners are doing food prep and working the grill, all in plain view. By the time the customers reach check-out, they have a bowl or plate of generous portions of savory, authentic Mediterranean food plus an added sense of value from the excellent customer service.

Operational transparency.

Home delivery food franchises and online shopping companies are upping their transparency by providing accurate tracking options for their customers as well as other perks aimed toward customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Photo Credit: Twitter

In the workplace, we need to listen to customers who actually give us feedback, especially complaints. There’s much to be learned by that sort of engagement. Becoming more and more transparent will help. Buell’s research shows the employees benefit as much as the customer with greater operational transparency.

As a stay-at-home, work-from-home spouse, I understand my husband’s question of “What did you do today?” It is the same as my question to him. “Writing and laundry” and “meetings all day” neither tell the whole story of either of our days. Operational transparency applied to our dinner conversation could make it a whole lot more engaging and valuable.

Taking the mystery out of how decisions get made and products/services actually happen can add greatly to the employee and customer experience.

Just as our teachers in school instructed us to “show our work”, we can do that for each other in creative and credible ways.

I have no idea how a letter gets from my friend in London to me in Virginia in less than a week…but it is easy to get frustrated when it hasn’t arrived in three weeks. The postal worker dealing with my frustration would be well-served…as would I…by opening a window into the complexities of the work of mail gathering, sorting, and delivering.

My father-in-law went from being admitted to an ICU post-stroke one day, to lying in bed all the next with an IV hanging but not dripping and no word from a doctor, to a visit and discharge by a palliative care team the third day. We welcomed the discharge home but a bit more transparency on that second day would have been really helpful.

Operational transparency builds trust, enhances communication, and facilitates accountability (see image below). Even when transparency reveals a negative (as in the fast food experience of the young mom), the company can turn that around once exposed.

From the Ryan Buell’s article, in closing:

“Don’t forget to close the loop. Transparency is the most beneficial when it’s allowed to flow in both directions—from the customers into the operation and from the employees out to the customers. Forcing employees to toil in obscurity deprives them of seeing how their work is helping customers, reducing their feeling that their work is appreciated and undermining their motivation. What’s more, transparency for employees can give them the information they need to customize service and help them learn better ways of operating.

Consumers [can] take work for granted and employees [can] lose out on the learning and motivation that customer connections afford. With that in mind, businesses should stop reflexively hiding their operations for the sake of efficiency and instead thoughtfully consider when and how to open them up to create more value for customers and employees alike.”

Operational Transparency – Ryan W. Buell

Photo Credit: Flickr

Creating Reciprocal Value Through Operational TransparencyRyan W. Buell, Tami Kim and Chia-Jung Tsay

Let’s Be Real – Why Transparency in Business Should Be the Norm – Robert Craven

YouTube Video – Defaulting to OpenWhile transparency is often associated with increased accountability to the public, the most visible outcome of open public data in recent years has been more and better services for citizens. This session addresses the opportunities and challenges of making open data useful, actionable, and relevant for users inside and outside government. Mike Migurski Chief Technology Officer at Code for America moderates a conversation with Alan Williams, 2013 Code for America Fellow; Joy Bonaguro, Chief Data Officer, City and County of San Francisco; Ryan Buell, Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School; and Mark Head, Developer Evangelist, Accela

Open Data

Monday Morning Moment – the Cultural Phenomenon of Decluttering Stuff and Disposing of Relationships – the Marie Kondo Effect

Photo Credit: Lucy and Claudia

[Starting with Marie Kondo but not staying there, so for those not a fan, hang with me a few minutes.]

Marie Kondo is a petite and lovely Japanese decluttering guru. Her book and Netflix TV show Tidying Up are based on her KonMarie method of organizing one’s home. Such that joy is sparked. She ascribes to the Shinto belief that cleanliness is essential to a good life. In Kondo’s thinking, disposing of everything in your home that doesn’t spark joy brings an order and spiritual calm you wouldn’t have otherwise.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing  – Marie Kondo

YouTube Video – 10 Amazing Tips for Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (the KonMarie Method)

Shintoism: How It Influenced the Lives of the Japanese – Saki Yoshida

The Hidden Religious Promise Behind Marie Kondo’s Decluttering ‘Magic’ – Karen Swallow Prior

Because of the popularity of the KonMarie decluttering method (and other similar approaches), homes (in the West anyway) have less stuff and more open spaces. These are great days to shop in thrift stores because they are full of higher end clothing, antiques, memorabilia, and the nearly new impulse buys of the minimizing upper middle class.

This decluttering can be a good thing because it is visually refreshing and potentially allows for a greater enjoyment of the stuff we do have in our home. The problem comes when we indiscriminately toss items just because they don’t spark joy (joy being a tall order coming from material things). It sets in motion a wider worldview on what is disposable in life. What should be cut out of our lives (possessions) or cut off from our lives (people)?

In this culture of trending decluttering and downsizing, we must beware that the freedom we feel in letting go of things can transfer into an ease in letting go of people. Intentionally, ruthlessly letting go of people…maybe without even being aware we’ve changed along with our homes.

– Cutting off family and friends in the insatiable pursuit of joy –

There are always consequences in decluttering, disposing, letting go …and for sure in cutting off relationships with people.Photo Credit: Haiku Deck

You might say that some people don’t deserve further access to your life – they are complicated or difficult (even abusive). [I am all for getting help and setting boundaries when necessary…especially in the face of abuse.] It’s the cutting off of relationships that feels like it alters who we are as people, set in families, in particular.

My older brother, Robert, experienced enormous loss in his life. Because of all the losses and setbacks, he developed thick skin and a tough heart. He was hard on all of us who loved him. Brutally hard sometimes. There were plenty of occasions I could have walked away from him and not looked back. Fortunately, we had a mom who loved us all well, even when her oldest treated her as he treated us. Also, fortunately, I had two friends who kept counseling me to look beyond the contentiousness and mean words to what was going on inside him. “Hurt people hurt people” they would tell me. I finally came to the place where I didn’t react when he tried to push emotional buttons that would always end in sibling fights and walk-outs. My two younger brothers and I determined together not to get baited and to try to lean in, in love. It wasn’t long at all until he changed – almost as if he woke out of a long and terrible dream. He remembered he loved us and that we loved him.

I thank God that I didn’t cut him off. He died at a young 61, and those last years of being his sister were sweet. Those years were full of joy actually. Worth the wait…and the willingness to give up my own way.

We have all probably had the experience of drifting from relationships, of neglecting friendships, of just not showing up emotionally or physically.

This is part of the imperfect nature of life. What bears examination is the very intentional, thought-out cutting off people from our lives.

“Does it spark joy?” is the question Marie Kondo asks the person deciding whether to keep something or dispose of it.

“Make sure everything you keep sparks joy.” “Unless something makes you happy in your life, why would you hang onto it?”Tidying Up

“Does it spark joy?” Is the Wrong Decluttering Question – Joshua Becker

Beware of the worldview that decluttering leads to joy, because where, then, does it stop?

One writer goes as far as saying out right: “When you are confronted with people who do not bring joy to your life… it’s 100% okay to toss them out of it.”

There is so much being written about how to “Marie Kondo” relationships we perceive as toxic or at the least annoying and joyless. I chose not to link to those in today’s piece.

One really helpful article, though, about the reasons we cut off family members can bring real insight into why we rationalize such a decision:

10 Reasons Why People Get Cut Off From Their Family Dr. Barbara Greenberg

Click on the link and read Dr. Greenberg’s analysis on cutting off family and why we should think it through again. In brief, here are her 10 reasons people make this choice:

  1. Modeling
  2. Power and Control
  3. Exhaustion
  4. Rewriting Narratives
  5. Loyalty
  6. Perceived Slights
  7. Money
  8. Caring for Elderly or Sick Parents
  9. Abuse
  10. Lack of Elasticity

It’s just something I’m thinking about this Monday morning.

People are not stuff. They are made in the image of God. They matter, even with all their cluttered baggage, this side of Heaven. They aren’t disposable. Who we become across our lifetime is framed by those in our family and among our friends…who don’t always spark joy…nor do we.

I welcome your thoughts…in the Comments below.

The Hidden Religious Promise Behind Marie Kondo’s Decluttering ‘Magic’ – Karen Swallow Prior

Our Disposable Culture Means We Toss Relationships As Quickly as We Throw Away Objects – Charlie Sorrel

The Real Reason Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic Doesn’t Work for Parents – Tanya C. Snyder

‘Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” Isn’t Really a Make-0ver Show – Sarah Archer

Clean House, Full Thrift Stores: How Marie Kondo Inspired Mass Decluttering and Donating – Mary Ellen Wright

What Japan Can Teach America About Family Caregiving – Barry J. Jacobs

350 Family Quotes – Wisdom Quotes

Monday Morning Moment – Two Steps Forward – Rhythms, Routines & Rituals

Photo Credit: Self

“Two steps forward, one step back.”

Monday mornings are usually invigorating to me. The whole prospect and potential of a week unfolding ahead. Who knows what can happen?

This morning, it was all I could do to roll slowly out of bed. Flattened by a hectic week before and a full weekend, Monday morning dawned in slow motion.

If I had to show up to work today, it would not be pretty. While I was pulling myself into the reality of morning, the waste management truck pulled up outside and took away a heavy load of garbage. How thankful I am for people who show up for work.

Now it’s my turn.

Because of a neighbor and friend’s rigorous routines, I am spurred on to stiffly tie on my sneakers and get out the door to walk with her and others. That woman who springs into her workout shoes and actually looks great in activewear…does not live at my house.

During that walk, my body starts to remember how to function, along with this bear of a brain waking from a long winter sleep.

Whether work in outside the home or inside, I am inspired by the great benefit of rhythms, routines, and rituals. That morning walk is someone else’s routine that I’m trying to make my own.

All the productivity gurus promote some configuration of these 3 r’s.

Photo Credit: Justin Clark, Time Doctor

I’m completely sold on incorporating rhythms, routines, and rituals in my daily life…even adding a 4th “r” to the mix with New Year’s resolutions. These are a great help to one who probably has un-diagnosed ADHD…distractible and a wanderer on my own when not reined in by good habits.

For this Monday morning, and any other, my rituals and routines follow. They help set up rhythms that keep me thinking and working in ways that yield some measure of impact by the end of the day.

  1. Night before: in bed by 10:00pm.
  2. Night before: beginning of a to-do list that frames the next day.
  3. Up early.
  4. Make the bed.
  5. Coffee.
  6. No phone or other electronic distraction until after #7.
  7. Spend time with God (Bible reading, journaling, prayer) – the God Benjamin Franklin referred to as the Powerful Goodness.

Photo Credit: Scott Tousley, Hubspot

Some days these rituals/routines are followed by breakfast, a walk, writing, or straightaway out the door. Whatever comes next, these form the foundation to my every day.

How about you? Any routines, rituals, or rhythms that help you get going? Don’t be discouraged by the “one step back” – we all have those and it’s still progress. Also don’t let the cultural naysayers redefine life as “one step forward; two steps back”. Like the story of the tortoise and the hare – we don’t have to take the tack in life of frantic and cynical pursuit of a life that gets us nowhere (good, anyway). Steady, steady…choosing well and wisely…we will finish the race, fight the fight, and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Even overcoming a hard Monday…

[Deb Mills Writer – I’ve written a lot on productivity. Search here.]

This Is How Your Daily Routine Should Look (According to Science) – Erin Brodwin

12 Morning and Evening Routines That Will Set Up Each Day for Success – Stephen Altrogge

The Morning Routines of the Most Successful People – Kevan Lee

8 Life Lessons from Benjamin Franklin – Quincy Seale

Rhythms, Routines, Rituals – Pinterest

A New Routine for the Work at Home Family – Leigh Ann Dutton

Monday Morning Moment – a Snow Day and an End-of-the-year Leadership Checklist

Monday morning. Quieter than usual. 11+ inches of snow has closed down much of the goings and comings of Richmond life today.

Although we know it’s not really a gift of time, snow days sure have the feel of a free day. Work still goes on for some (thank you all in the service industries), but for others we will catch up another day.

Today I am working on Christmas cards but they can’t be finished until husband Dave and I do our end-of-year reflection. We both look back separately, over the highs and lows of the year, and then come together to write a summary for our Christmas newsletter.

[If you hate those newsletters, just throw them in your recycling. They are probably more for the sender as the receiver…so the good has already been done. Happy Christmas.]

Dave works for an international organization. If we had kids or grandchildren at home, he may have just called it a snow day as his office, like many others in the city, is closed. However, because much of his day was already scheduled conference calls with people in different parts of the US and the world, he could work, from his office at home.

I say all this to emphasize how challenging it is to do any sort of review of the year…even on a snow day.

Still, year-end reflections are such a positive and productive activity, both for ourselves and for our workplace.

By year’s end, we are often just trying to appease the tyranny of the urgent. The dilemma is that a work life of putting out fires rarely puts in place barriers that can prevent further fires.

A year-end checklist used by leaders in concert with their direct reports can make a huge difference in accountability, employee engagement, evaluating practices, and planning for the next year.

Otherwise we live and work in the insanity that comes when we don’t block out time for reflection, evaluation, celebration, and development or planning.Photo Credit: Twitter, Seven Quotes

We think we’re doing all those things…but are we?

Below, you will find five links with five different end-of-the-year checklists. Some are longer than others. Some require deeper reflection than others. They are a nice mix written by brilliant thought leaders. [two have the same title but they are very different, by two different leaders].

Tomorrow, I will post my favorite points of the checklists below. Today, maybe you would take the time to look at them, like me, and come up with a checklist you would use…or one of your own making.

A Year-end Checklist That Will Make You a Much Better Leader – Lolly Daskal (2018)

15 Things to Top Your Business Checklist for the new Year – Forbes – 2017

A Year-end Checklist That Will Make You a Much Better Leader – Marcel Schwantes (2016)

A Great Leader’s Year-end Checklist – Les McKeown – 2012

A Leadership Checklist – 10 Things to Do Right Now to Make it a Great Year – Terry St. Marie (2010)

Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart – Part 1 – Capacity

This past weekend, I was privileged to speak at a women’s holiday event in Kingsport, Tennessee. 150 women gathered to bring in a vintage Christmas together. Photo Credit: ISBC Women’s Ministry, Facebook

The food was delicious, the company was old friend-comfortable, and the memories wrapped around us like a Tennessee quilt.

The Festival of Tables was amazing – designed by the women hostessing. Just a few of the table toppers shown below:

[Today’s blog and the next two – Part 2 and Part 3] are taken from the talk I gave that evening on “Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart”. The following are excerpts of the talk because some who couldn’t come wanted me to post. Though written for Christian women, there is much to apply to any of our lives.]

“Vintage” can mean something very different to each one of us, depending on our ages and life experiences.

Vintage…one day our grandchildren and great-grands will look way back to our Christmases and call them vintage. They will look back on us as the women of old in their lives – the grandmothers (and great-grandmothers) of their faith.

What do we see when we look back? What will they see when they look back?

When I look back to my growing up years, it’s my Mom and women like her who come to mind. Godly women – tirelessly serving their families, church and community and pointing us to Jesus.

In thinking about Vintage Christmases and matters of the heart, God has placed three character traits on my mind. Three qualities we probably saw in our Godly grandmothers and great-aunts.

Strong and steely traits that we can develop across a lifetime walking with God. These traits are all matters of the heart. We see them in the life and character of Jesus. As we wrestle with them in each season of our lives, we can hope to carry them forward to future generations.

The first is capacity defined as the maximum that something can contain or produce.

In every season of our lives, we have those moments or days of coming to the end of ourselves. We feel like we just can’t do one more thing. We are DONE. When I talk about capacity, it’s not about adding more stuff to lives that are over-packed or over-scheduled lives. God doesn’t call us to be Energizer Bunnies…until we burn out, or dry up, or give in to the busy.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Capacity isn’t just about getting a lot done. Nor is it, on the flip side, about shaking up those of us in seasons of life that have been downsized –  intentionally or unintentionally. Unless God is speaking into that…which He sure did with me.

Building capacity means to look to God to order our days and to watch for Him to show up in our schedules and “chance” encounters.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come through both a cancer diagnosis and a couple of cardiac emergencies that could have taken my life. Having half a lung removed diminished my physical capacity for awhile. Then moving into retirement diminished my other capacities even further. I felt old. In our previous work circles and in our church, whatever purpose or identity I had before seemed to fade with time and age. It wasn’t pretty.

Maybe you have experienced this sort of thing, whatever your age is. A situation where you have passion or desire to be a part of something but the doors seem to all be closed. When it seemed there was no way forward, I just settled into a slowed-down, lesser life.

In the middle of all this, the Lord in His great kindness, pretty much asked me, out right, “Is that it? You’re done?” I sure didn’t want to be done. With age and what seemed to be dwindling opportunity, life had become small for me.

Or did I do it to myself? Was I looking to people for opportunities to serve…or to God?

Now those of you with heavy academic loads, small children or big responsibilities in your work may not even be able to imagine this…but think with me a minute. Is our capacity such that God could show up and do as He wills in us…or are we pretty much maxed-out or turned-in?

Does God have our hearts? Or is our capacity dulled because He is more a tenant in our hearts rather than the Lord?

Is there space in our hearts He would fill if we didn’t already have them packed with other stuff?

Now, we all have responsibilities in life. For some, papers have to be written, babies must be fed, and payrolls managed…fill in the blank in your thoughts of where you have to show up every day…

What happens when we show up with our eyes on Jesus and the possibility of what He might do in and through us?

That realization from the Lord that “if I wasn’t done, then what?” started a spiritual journey for me… Last December, as part of a New Year’s resolution, and in response to our pastor’s challenge, I determined to make God’s voice the first voice of my every day. I’m a morning person, so quiet times before dawn may come easier for me than for some. Still for God’s to be the first voice does require me NOT to pick up the cell phone, or sit down at my computer, or turn on the TV news. In my season of life, there are no children to feed or to get schooled, so you with children have different challenges of making God’s voice first.

Whatever our challenges, it doesn’t change our great need of hearing Him speak truth and love into our hearts. Early. Every day.

When God did get first voice, He began helping me to clear out the clutter in my heart which changed the contents of my conversations and my calendar…Bit by bit, God added space to my life. Space to hear Him speak and to “interrupt” the rhythms of my day.

The discovery that I seemingly had more time wasn’t magic…it was God.

The visual below is so perfect of Christ flooding our heart with His love and all the good things God has for us, and in turn our hearts are cleansed, cleared of all the junk that distances us from Him, and then the contents of our hearts pour into others. Jesus talked to the religious leaders of his day about this very thing: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”Photo Credit: HolyTrinityPTC

Another way to look at this is related to what we hold in our lives as treasure. Jesus taught us that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Photo Credit: Heather C. King

You can guide your heart with your treasure. Wherever you put your treasure or whomever you make your treasure, your heart will follow. Your treasure leads your heart.

This was so helpful for me because I had stored up quite a bit of self-absorbed treasure in recent years – my own significance being one part of that. Even wanting to be useful to God somehow had become an idol. That sort of thing just happens when we take our eyes off Him and onto ourselves. Right?

Days turned to weeks of God being the first voice each day in my life. I started doing life more in present tense with Him, listening for His voice through the day. Like a real conversation. Sometimes it would be a prayer; sometimes a complaint; just being in His presence. The barriers keeping life small seemed to start coming down. Such that, even when life was small, I was becoming more content. We keep our eyes on God, and He guides…sounds too simple, I know…but it has given the most mundane day or situation a sense of the divine.

The prophet Isaiah captures this so well when he says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it”. [Isaiah 30:21] Of course, we may not hear God speak audibly, but He will lead us just that clearly as we tune our hearts to His voice. We’ve all experienced that. To walk daily like this builds capacity…

Photo Credit: Francis of Assisi, Brainy Quote

We start by doing what’s necessary…this is sometimes where we stop…short.  If…we keep our hearts on the Lord, the necessary can open up to being a part of something only possible with God in it…and then…the impossible.

 If we are faithful to make a capacity for Jesus…He will fill that capacity with Himself.  “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make myself a torrent!” – Catherine of Siena

Photo Credit: Heartlight, Quotemeal

[Part 2 on Caring and Part 3 on Constancy]

Monday Morning Moment – Respect & Civility – and the Lack Thereof – in the Workplace and Public Life

Photo Credit: Real Wellness Doc

In the summer of 2002, we returned home to the US from living in Cairo, Egypt for many years. I was surprised at the change in our culture. People passing each other didn’t make eye contact as much anymore. There was less acknowledgement in general. Once the cell phone (and especially the smart phone) became, not just en vogue but, normative, we became even more disconnected from people around us.

Then the humor at others’ expense escalated. As did impatience at others’ foibles and perceived differences (in traffic, at the ball-field, and in the workplace).

Respect had to be earned…not just given.

Tolerance is the public message, but genuine acceptance of another is altogether something else. On any side of the argument.

What do you take of all of this?

Is it possible to restore respect and civility in a culture? First, we have to know what that even means. When unkind habits become part of our lives, we don’t always know it’s happened.

Let’s focus on incivility.  Just last week, I watched business consultant Christine Porath’s TED Talk on incivility. Her research with Christine Pearson on respect and civility was eye-opening for me. Incivility is edgy in its acceptance in our culture.

We are both shocked and even sometimes amused when people are abrupt, sarcastic or rude with others. This is dependent on our age, gender, and cultural background.

The problem with incivility is that it is contagious. It can infect a whole culture. Incivility, and disrespect, can move subtly to bullying.

Photo Credit: Patricia Bouweraerts, Martha Stout, WorkplaceStory

Author and podcaster Michelle McQuaid interviewed Christine Porath on “the cost of incivility”.  Following are my notes in brief from that podcast:

  • Incivility is defined as rude, disrespectful or insensitive behavior (whether or not the actor sees him/herself as being uncivil or disrespectful – it has to do with what the receiver hears or feels).
  • We are all biased. We may not know our behavior is uncivil. The only way we can know is to seek feedback…and truly listen to and consider constructive criticism.
  • Technology is a relationship distractor. It muddies civility. With our faces in our various e-screens, we miss verbal and nonverbal cues, make wrong assumptions, lose the tone and tenor of the conversation in front of us…and so on and so on.
  • The cost of tolerating such behavior in the workplace: performance, mental and physical tolls, personnel retention, cognitive tolls (memory, attention, creativity), and less help within a team or across departments (incivility breeds mistrust – collaboration and cooperation just don’t happen in such an environment).

Porath gives some excellent counsel on what can help in an environment that has become disrespectful and uncivil. Unfortunately, incivility is too often expressed by those with authority/power. The best organizational intervention, then, is to recruit for civility, coach and train toward civility and practice civility. Respect and civility have to be core values of the organization. See Bryan Cave Law Firm‘s Code of Civility below:

Photo Credit: Bryan Cave, Christine Porath

For us as individuals, Porath counsels to take the high road in regards to civility. Do what you can to effectually put the incivil person “in a bubble”. Then work on your own habits of respect and civility. Smile at people…genuinely, warmly, acknowledging them. Listen – tune in, invest, make eye contact. Build relationships with your team, especially those who report to you. Humbly reach out.

Porath also gave a shout-out to Adam Grant‘s advice along the same lines: to share resources and recognition; give credit; show gratitude; say thank you; share purpose and meaning. [She did the same thing she encourages us listening to do.]

Porath is the author of Mastering Civility: a Manifesto for the Workplace. Definitely on my to-read list now.

I took her quick and easy assess yourself survey and tried to be as honest and forthcoming as I could be. The result was 64 our of 100 points (“good” on her civility assessment). It surprised me – thinking it would be a higher score. Along with the number score she gives a great strengths and “things to focus on” determination and guide. Take the survey. Worth your time.

We can pull ourselves up and out of a culture that thinks it shows confidence to yell at people or that it’s ok to laugh at someone else’s expense. We have the power to rise above and to bring back health to our organization. One small respectful and civil gesture at a time.

The Cost of Incivility With Christine Porath

Assess Yourself – Christine Porath

The Price of Incivility – Christine Porath and Christine Pearson

Choosing Civility – 25 Rules to Live By – with P. M. Forni – Barb Schrader

YouTube Video – Civility: a Conversation with P. M. Forni

Monday Morning Moment – Your Company’s Secret Change Agents – with Richard T. Pascale, Jerry Sternin, and Chinese Philosopher Lao Tse

Photo Credit: Waggl

We have all encountered people in life who are bright stars in our universe. They aren’t necessarily those who climb the corporate ladder or win public office. However, in their own niche, in their own small place in a company or community, they are brilliant change agents, people making a difference and moving us to a better situation. Just by showing up.

[Please take the time to share in Comments your experience of such a person – either at work or in your family or friend space.

Organizational change is usually driven from top-down planning and execution. Occasionally, those changes are not received well by the company employees or organizational members. Ownership doesn’t follow and at some point the change fizzles into something altogether different.

Wouldn’t it be wisdom to create successful and sustainable change? What is missing from typical change orchestration? Is change planned in the isolation of the executive conference room or in the company of those most impacted by the change.

Business authors and educators Richard T. Pascale and Jerry Sternin wrote several years ago about the very environment where positive and impactful change takes place. Their piece is titled Your Company’s Secret Change Agents and was introduced to me by a friend in a huge time of change himself. I wondered if his own situation resonated with this piece.

Pascale and Sternin write about the power of positive deviance. it is defined below.

Photo Credit: Slideshare

Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.

Five basic steps serve as the backbone of the approach. The 5 D’s are:

  1. Define the problem, its causes and common practices, and articulate desired outcome.
  2. Determine presence of PDs,
  3. Discover their uncommon but successful behaviors & strategies through PD inquiries,
  4. Develop activities based on the inquiry findings
  5. Discern (monitor and evaluate) the results. – Positive Deviance Initiative

The Power of Positive Deviance – How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems – Richard Pascale, Jerry & Monique Sternin (Slideshare produced by Melih Arat)

Your Company’s Secret Change Agents – Richard T. Pascale and Jerry Sternin

The Power of Positive Deviancy – Jerry Sternin and Robert Choo

What Pascale and Sternin discovered was the essential component to change embraced by those impacted was the work done to find and learn from those “positive defiants” in the particular community. The practice of PD inquiry sorts out who those persons are and then discovers what they are doing well that others within the workplace or community aren’t. It’s not a judgment as much as a fact-finding mission.

“It’s easier to ACT your way into a new way of THINKING, than to THINK your way into a new way of ACTING”. – Pascale and Sternin

Too often we think our own personal expertise (knowledge) can move us and others to a changed attitude which would then impact practice. For sustainable change to take place (as in habit formation), we figure out what effective practice is and as we begin doing it, then our attitude changes and our knowledge grows. What are your thoughts about this?

The authors quote 6th century Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu in simply and eloquently describing this process:

Learn from the people

Plan with the people

Begin with what they have

Build on what they know

Of the best leaders

When the task is accomplished

The people all remark

We have done it ourselves

Photo Credit: Brilliant Ink

I love when worlds converge giving greater import to what is happening. In recent weeks, I’ve been taking a course with Wendy McCaig, executive director of Embrace Richmond, instructing. The topic is Asset-based Community Development – (ABCD). It is very similar to positive deviance in setting out toward change.

ABCD is community and relationship driven. It’s not a more resourced agent coming in and trying to fix the problems of a workplace, organization, or neighborhood. It is a “working with process”. Like the PD inquiry, ABCD uses a methodology focused on listening – to individuals and to communities. These listening conversations are geared toward finding the positive deviants within that community…and seeking out their practices, attitudes, and particular knowledge.

What Is Asset-based Community Development? – Graeme Stuart

Something I ask friends and former colleagues (free-lancing as I am now) often, especially when they are struggling with a top-down decision- and change-making structure is “Who is thriving in your situation?” “What are they doing to thrive?” “What are you doing to add to or contribute to the health of your organization?”

Too often, we get tunnel vision regarding change; thinking we have no other option but to respond…or react. Like Pascale, Sternin, Lao Tse, and also Wendy McCaig…I know and believe in those secret change agents. If you don’t know any, search them out.

Or…become one.

Both/and really. Search them out AND become one as well.

[Do your bosses, your organizational leads, and yourselves a big favor…introduce them to your company’s secret change agents…those positive deviants in your lives.]

Monday Morning Moment – a Comforting Reminder When Family Gathered – “Do the Next Thing”

Photo Credit: Francis J. Gavin, Kristian Dela Cour

This morning I woke weighed down with so much undone that needing doing. A week of travel, as delightful as it was, lends itself to a deep sleep on Sunday night and an early fretful waking on a Monday morning.

Do you have those awakenings? When your mind clears from sleep and you begin looking at the week ahead and think “How am I going to get it all done?” Or “How do I even do it?” Anxiety builds, and depression follows.

That’s how this morning started…and then the heaviness lifted with the simplest thought. A reminder I received just this weekend…a reminder that stirred sweet memories of a woman with huge influence on my younger years…writer Elisabeth Elliot.

On our trip to see family this past week, we had an evening with girl talk. Four generations of women around the dinner table, laughing, sharing, and remembering. [I know men do this, too – how else do they keep all those football, baseball, and fishing trip stories so fresh in their memories?]

In the course of the warm glow of that conversation, my dear sister-in-law, Stacie, reminded her girls of how she counseled with them through their high school angsty moments. She told us she used to  quote Elisabeth Elliot‘s own advice to her daughter, Valerie, when she was overwhelmed by life: “Do the next thing.”

[Stacie sounded just like Elisabeth Elliot as well…took me back to when I was her girls’ ages and first began reading Elliot’s books, including her husband Jim’s journals.]

Elisabeth Elliot died in 2015, but through her life she wrote many books that had huge impact on my life. From my teen years. Books that remain treasures today…http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Blog-Elisabeth-Elliot-Love-is-a-Laid-Down-Life.jpg

For years after, as a struggling mom with young children, I would tune into her daily radio shows – Gateway to Joy – listening to her “square-your-shoulders” walk-with-God counsel. Her manner was both tough and tender as she covered the real stuff of life and how we maneuver through it in the presence of God.

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

This morning, in the cloud of confusion over where to even begin this week, God brought our dinner table conversation to mind. Hearing Stacie quoting Eliot in that no-nonsense voice of hers made me laugh then, and smile today.

Four little words that brought clarity.

“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now…Do the next thing.Elisabeth Elliot

When You Don’t Know What to Do – (a tribute to Elisabeth Elliot) – Rhonda Quaney

On the Passing of Elisabeth Elliot – Love Is a Laid Down Life – Deb Mills

Love Is a Laid-Down Life  – a Slowing Down for a Season – Deb Mills

Photo Credit: Pinterest, AllysTruth

YouTube Video: Elisabeth Elliot: Suffering Is Never For Nothing

Monday Morning Moment – “What Are You Doing These Days?” – the Utility Infielder

Photo Credit: Service Desk Show, James West

When I was a little girl, the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was easy to answer. I wanted to be a nurse. Being on the serving end of helping people in crisis was the stuff that even populated my nighttime dreams. It was my passion as a child.

In my teen years, teachers and other adults commended me on my writing. For years, kind people who actually read what I read have asked, “When are you going to write that book?” A much harder question for me than the earlier one.

Photography, music and drama clubs were my loves in high school and college, mixed with a budding political activism. That activism was baby steps at first, with rallies and protests. Long conversations over coffee on Saturday mornings. Nothing requiring much commitment. Our military conflicts were confusing to me (with seemingly never an end in sight). In my youth, I would write to soldiers serving in far countries…doing my small part to encourage them and humanize their situation. I still have a box of letters from those soldier pen-pals.

My girlhood goal was to do nursing overseas…among the poorest of the poor. Those strong youthful dreams directed me first to Emory University for nursing and grad school. Then a few years later to Yale University to teach. In the between time, my “poorest of the poor” turned out to be on the oncology unit of Grady Hospital, in Atlanta, Georgia’s inner city…

The “what do you want to do when you grow up?” question took on a life of its own. As did the question: “What are you doing these days?”

Depending on the season of life, it was cancer nursing, home-schooling mom, cross-cultural living, facilitating a cultural exchange program, teaching ESL, communications strategist/social media manager, and finally freelance writing.

Now…after all these seasons and address changes, the question, “What are you doing these days?” is mystifying. I almost feel a bit ashamed that I haven’t landed anywhere as a specialist in anything.

Just this morning, a friend posted on her Facebook page a TED talk that encouraged her…and it also encouraged me.

The speaker on the TED talk was writer, creator Emilie Wapnick. She describes herself as a multipotentialite which she defines as “someone with many interests and creative pursuits“.  Wapnick is the founder of the website Puttylike…out of which has evolved a fascinating global community of other multipotentialites.

In her TED talk, Wapnick describes three “superpowers” of these multipotentialites. They are:

  • Idea synthesis – “combining two or more fields and creating something new at the intersection”
  • Rapid learning – multipotentialites “go hard” at learning. They have been beginners many times, therefore, they aren’t afraid to try a new way. They “rarely start from scratch”.
  • Adaptability – “the ability to morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation”.

Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling – Emilie Wapnick TEDx

The Fine Art of Bringing Together Unrelated Ideas Emilie Wapnick

Now whether being a multipotentialite applies to my career journey…or yours, it is so refreshing to to be reminded that going in multiple directions professionally can be a normal and good thing.

I love “both/and” situations, and there are lots of them out there, if we open our eyes to see them. A few careers back, I had the opportunity of being a cancer nursing specialist, but looking ahead, being an expert in any given discipline is unlikely. Being decent, however, (maybe even good) at both this…and that is possible. Being a generalist works for me… However, I can still aim at being a versatilist (see below). How about you? Where are you in your career?Photo Credit: Gartner, Shi Wen, HR in Asia

Talent Archetypes: Specialists, Generalists, and VersatilistsShi Wen

You may have never heard the term multipotentialite or versatilist, but in America, especially in the summer, you may have heard of a utility infielder. “A utility infielder (UI) is a baseball player, usually one who does not have a regular starting role on the team and who is capable of playing more than one of the four defensive infield positions:   second base, third base, shortstop, and less typically first base. Utility infielders are generally considered excellent defensive players who do not hit well enough to remain in the starting lineup,[2] but can fill in at multiple defensive positions to give the various starters a rest, or replace a starter late in a game to provide improved defense when the team is winning.” – Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Dan Ryan, Ryan Search & Consulting

Why You Want to Be a Utility Infielder – Dan Ryan

A utility infielder is definitely someone you want on your team. I’m married to one. Multipotentialite, versatilist, utility infielder. Whatever this person’s title, he or she brings their own special strengths.

Some days, dark days, I despair of some of my career choices and wonder if I’d been more focused, or less inclined to chase after this opportunity or that dream…would I have been more effective? Would I have made a greater difference? Today, and more days lately, I am content with the roads taken. Some of us have laser focus and sharp skills. Others of us are more like the Swiss Army utility knife. Both are indispensable. Both/and.Photo Credit: CBT Nuggets

The Value of an Adaptable Skill Set – Leadership Made Simple

5 Ways a Compliance officer Is Like a Swiss Army Knife – Compliance Experts

Getting Ahead at Work: Are You a Hammer or a Swiss Army Knife? – Carlos Portocarrero

Monday Morning Moment – Picking a Lane – It’s Never Too Late – Deb Mills – an example of a multipotentialite who is excellent in all his pursuits, best I can tell.