Remember Every Employee Has a Story

Recently I stumbled across a photography exhibit that reminded me of one of the most fundamental principles of leadership- every employee has a story. The photographer, Milton Rogovin, documented factory workers in the 1970’s and 80’s. His portraits depicted workers on the job and then in their homes, rendering them as complete people with hopes and dreams, passions and pride. I stood mesmerized by the image of the gruff steel worker covered in dust standing on the shop floor next to the image of the same man proudly showing off the boat in his driveway. And the image of the middle age woman in kerchief and coveralls surrounded by machinery then shown dressed in her Sunday best sitting proudly with family in front of a wall of bowling trophies. Fulfilling work is central to our lives, but for most of us, it is one important part of a much richer story. We are employees but we are also parents, friends, volunteers, artists, athletes, coaches and so much more. I believe it is our job as leaders to see people more completely and that when we do, we can inspire greater commitment and better results from our teams. In one of my favorite books, Leadership is An Art, the author, Max DePree, shares the story of a young manager attending the funeral of one of his key employees, the factory millwright. The man’s widow reads from a bound book of poetry. Upon asking who wrote the beautiful verses the manager is shocked to learn that the millwright was also a poet. DePree writes, “it is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons. This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills…the art of leadership lies in polishing and liberating and enabling those gifts.” Really knowing the people who work for you takes effort and energy. In our time-pressed lives it is often easier to focus only on who your employees are as producers rather than who they are as people. But being known is a key component of belonging. And research suggests that belonging, or connecting in a way that enables you to bring your full self to work, creates lots of positive behavior. Employees who say they belong are likely to:Be more helpful to co-workers without the need for personal gain.Be more productiveEncourage and support one another.Work more cooperatively with other teams.Take fewer sick days or be late to work. I have by no means mastered this art but I have learned a few ways to unlock employee stories that have helped me as a leader. 1. Start staff meetings with everyone sharing a short personal and professional win. Hearing about your team mates successful choir audition or their kid’s soccer championship helps create deeper camaraderie.2. Try putting personal and professional appointments on your office calendar. Seeing that the boss has lunch scheduled with a friend or has a parent teacher conference gives the team permission to not hide their own personal commitments.3. In 1:1’s try to spend at least a few minutes catching up on employee’s personal activities. Years ago, a young woman I worked with commented on how much it meant that the head of our department asked her about how her kitchen remodel was going. A simple question like that signaled to her that she was known and cared about.4. If someone on the team has special talent find creative ways to use it. Someone with artistic skills may be able to create some beautiful signs to celebrate a team milestone or the group baker may be able to make cookies to say thank you to folks in another department.5. Include outside activities in employee's development plans. Volunteering as part of a non-profit can provide an opportunity to work on leadership skills. Coaching a team can be a first step toward learning to manage others. When we feel known by our boss and by our teammates, when they get our story and understand all the unique value we can bring to the job we simply do better. And when our teams do better we as leaders achieve more. Would love to hear your ideas for understanding and utilizing your employees’ full stories. Also you can check out Rogovin’s photos here Working People.​

How Saturday’s Women’s March Changes My Monday​

After months of heart wrenching, tear inducing moments, taking part in the Women’s March in San Jose this Saturday was a chance to fill my lungs with optimism and hope. The atmosphere was festive, the skies sunny, the conversations marked by determination and encouragement. I was struck by the diversity of the crowd – the wise, battle-weary faces of older women and the outrageous outfits and gorgeous rainbow hued hair of optimistic millennials, the fathers with daughters on their shoulders and the young boys proudly carrying signs about equality for their sisters. I saw signs that made me laugh, signs that made me blush, signs that made me instantly want to be friends with the people carrying them. Signs about loving each other and the earth, signs about defending democracy and protecting the rights of women, immigrants and black Americans. Signs calling for both unity and resistance. I didn't completely agree with every sentiment, but I was moved by the creativity and passion and intrigued by the story I imagined was behind each proudly carried placard. When I got home I spent a glorious evening scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram feeds seeing posts from friends marching in DC, NY, LA, Oakland, Portland, Bend, Paris, Atlanta, Ashville, Austin, Chicago, San Francisco. All united around our belief that we each play a part and bear a responsibility in making this a better world for all people. So now what? How do I take this mountain top experience and carry it through to my everyday life and work? Here is what I think I will try to do more of on Monday:  1. Support the young people in my life – Lots of research, including this recent study from Express Employment Professionals, show that millennials care deeply about social issues and believe they can positively change their communities and the world. I want to nurture that conviction in the young people I work with. I want to commit more time to mentoring them in the hard-won lessons I have learned while nurturing their conviction that they can make a difference. 2. Seek to understand different points of view – It is so easy to surround ourselves with people who see the world as we do and to avoid or instantly dismiss divergent perspectives. But we face complicated issues and I am convinced that change starts with conversation. I want to seek out someone who didn't vote the way I did and listen to why. I want to see if I can find some common ground where we can work together rather than pull further apart. 3. Stand in the gap – I am concerned that many of the causes I care about - arts education, reproductive rights, foreign aid to Africa will face funding cuts. I am concerned that people I care about will face hardships around immigration issues. I need to pray more now and I need to be ready and willing to contribute more financially when needs arise. Part of the joy of working hard should be the joy of being able to give more. Raising my voice with millions of others on Saturday was a privilege and a great start, but ultimately it is my actions that will create a movement that makes the difference we all long for. I am interested to hear what actions others have been inspired to take in the weeks ahead.​

What's your true north in 2017?

If you want to get from a point at the bottom of a map to one at the top, you need to head true north. This doesn’t just apply to navigating hikes it is equally true when navigating life. Interestingly if you navigate by magnetic north (the direction a compass points toward the magnetic north pole) you might find yourself in another destination entirely. In life, magnetic north is created from the strong pull of other people’s expectations and society’s version of what success looks like. Elle Luna, the author of The Crossroads of Should and Must describes it as “how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do.” In contrast, true north is the core of who you are and what is most important to you right now. It's the thing that your heart will regret if you look back a year from now and it hasn't happened. Maybe it is finally starting your own business, or taking a trip with an aging parent or developing the skill that you need to get promoted. This year instead of making resolutions about what you won’t do in 2017 – eating too much, responding to emails at the dinner table, buying things you don't need from mobile shopping apps (OK I might still need some work on that one) – decide on the one thing that you would regret not doing and put that first. For me true north in 2017 is having the time and flexibility to spend with my son before he heads to college. We have planned a 6-week camping trip through the Western National Parks this summer. Just the three of us, our 1967 Shasta trailer, good books and a chance to be awestruck by God’s glorious creation. I am pretty sure this is the last time I can make this happen. Friends tell me you can get adult kids to go on vacation with you, but only if it is something like a week in Hawaii. What is interesting is that once you acknowledge your true north other decisions fall into place. For example, if I am taking 6 weeks off this summer it doesn't make sense to consider full time work right now. It's a little scary – will I lose my relevance, will I have to pass up opportunities that may not come back my way, will my savings be depleted in a way that gets uncomfortable? Maybe. But my heart tells me that it is worth the risk. That is the essence of true north – it is what your heart knows is certain. In the next few days find a quiet, beautiful place, grab a notebook and some colored pencils, project yourself forward a year and think back to what one accomplishment would feel you with joy if it happened in 2017. What is it that you will put first? What is it that will guide your decisions and be worth the inevitable trade-offs? Write it down and keep it someplace where you see it every day. Magnetic north is seductive. If we don't make a conscious decision about what is true for us we can easily get caught in its force. True north isn’t hard to discover; we know it deep within our souls. What takes courage is to follow where it leads. May you have that courage and the joy that it brings in the year ahead.​

making time for rituals

Tomorrow is my birthday. I have it all planned out. I'll dig into Nutella and banana pancakes over breakfast with my family, share lunch and a beach hike with a close friend, then gather my favorite couples to raise a ruckus at a country music singer/songwriter concert at my favorite local winery. I even ordered my own lemon Birthday cake – hold the candles.Years ago in the land of dirty diapers and sleep deprived days, my husband came up with a brilliant idea. Birthdays should be holidays. No work, no school, no excuses. The birthday person gets to call the shots. Deciding on the activities, the food, the company. We have taken snowboarding and indoor skydiving lessons, gone to art museums, boated in the Monterey Bay estuary and geeked out at a Star Trek exhibit.  Not only is the day always special, the act of planning provides time for reflection on what makes us feel happy right now at this moment in our life.Even in our toughest years the Birthday holidays have provided something to look forward to with anticipation and look back on with joy. Indeed, if I had a book of the best days of my life it would start with these 3 days each year.Families are complicated organisms. Every day is a series of trade-offs and negotiations. For working moms and dads you totter between a growing list of things “I wish I had time to do with my kids” and the frequent feeling that you aren’t doing anything to feed your own soul.   Setting aside Birthdays gives my husband and I the chance to say guilt-free “hey this is what I need right now.” It gives me the chance to show my work colleagues that it is possible to be a parent and a successful executive. It empowers my son, even from his preschool days, to be the one in charge of setting the agenda for at least one day.We all need rituals to celebrate the uniqueness of our family and to remind us of what matters. It doesn't have to be Birthdays. I am struck by the beauty of my friends who faithfully honor Shabbat and those who work together in a local soup kitchen each Thanksgiving. One family I know makes one night a month upside down day where they have breakfast for dinner and snuggle up watching cartoons. We are all working harder and faster than ever. Life won’t slow down unless you are intentional about setting aside time for the rituals that replenish you. For me that starts with a big syrupy bite of pancakes!​

my last first day of school

 Today is the first day of school.  My son is starting his senior year of high school so essentially it’s my last first day.  While he will hopefully have many more firsts (college, work) I am coming to grips with the recognition they will never be shared by me in the same way.  So I am in my office sobbing after watching him drive off this morning.  I have come full circle from that morning 13 years ago when I cried after leaving him at kindergarten. That year I held his hand as we walked into the classroom then I nervously hung around with other parents until the teacher told us that we really did need to leave now. The next year it was a bit easier, I walked him to the door, gave him a kiss and just lingered for a few moments with my face pressed to the classroom window.  By 2nd grade I was dropping and waving from the car and then somehow… here we are…I meet so many young parents struggling to figure out how to give their best at work and also be the kind of mom or dad they want to be.  I don't have all the answers, but I do have a vantage point from where I can see things that I think I did well and those that I wish I had done better.  So for all you still dropping off your kids, here are a few thoughts.Things I Did Right Made Being Around the First Day a Priority – My jobs have typically involved lots of travel and long hours.   I don't think I ever made it to a school field trip.  But for back to school I’d try hard to be in town, take the morning off and be home in time for an early dinner.  Did I do it every year?  Probably not, but enough that I have lots of sweet memories of conversations about first impressions of teachers, which friends (and not friends!) were in the same class and what happened that first day at lunch or on the playground. Scheduled Coffee with Girlfriends – For many years I had a standing date with friends to meet at Starbucks after first day drop off. Moms need girlfriends.  Not the ones who make you feel inadequate by talking about their kids summer accomplishments – can you really write your first symphony and win the Jr. Nationals Tennis title in the same summer? My girlfriends are the kind who make you laugh and don't care that you bring store bought cookies to the school bake sale.Bought School Supplies for Other Kids – A tradition in our house was to buy the extra back pack and fill it with supplies for a needy kid through one of our local charities. There are lots of organizations that do this and it made the hectic trip to Target a lot more meaningful.Things I Wish I Could Do Over Taken More Photos – Somewhere along the way – probably in the eye rolling middle school years, I gave up on capturing the first day back to school photo. There are only so many battles you can fight.  Now I wish I had all thirteen years standing in the same spot by the front door.  Moms stand your ground on this one.  (By the way I found it helps if I promise not to post it on Facebook.)Written First Day Letters- I wish I had taken a few moments each year to write a letter to my son with my hopes and dreams, my fears and prayers for the year. I could have put them all away and let him have them on graduation. Did Less Back to School More End of Summer–My son was never one to worry too much about what he wore on the first day or whether he had a new lunch box. But somehow I still ran around like crazy trying to take care of all those chores. I wish I’d just let some of that go (they don’t really use all crayons and folders in the first week anyway!) I’d spend the time eating ice cream or jumping in the pool together.I can’t and honestly wouldn’t want to do it all over.  I mostly just hope to do what lies ahead of me well.  So if you see me this year taking way too many photos and crying at the silliest of things remind me to just relax and enjoy the ride.        [/PATH]LikeMy Last First Day of School    [/PATH]Comment     [/PATH]ShareShare My Last First Day of School​

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