Never Stop Investing in Your People

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In a case of classic “glass half empty vs. glass half full” thinking, this imaginary conversation between a CEO and CFO stopped me dead in my tracks yesterday. I ran across it on LinkedIn and it struck me in a profound way. How sad, but true, that too many organizations have used the current business downturn as an excuse to stop investing in their people. Now, more than ever, companies should be looking to build upon the knowledge base and talent they have to strengthen and grow their organizations for the future.

Early in my career, there were certain pedigrees that one would kill to have on their resume. To be an IBM- or Xerox-trained salesperson meant you were classically trained in the fundamentals of Professsional Selling Skills. The tenets of these courses have built the training empires of organizations like Achieve Global, Learning International and Miller-Heimen. In the CPG world, to cut your teeth selling soap for Procter and Gamble, blue box Mac and cheese for Kraft or Corn Flakes for Kellogg’s earns similar respect. These organizations all earned a reputation for aggressively hiring young college graduates, training them well and working them hard and only retaining the best of the best. Across every field and discipline, the modern version of IBM, the P&G’s and their peers stand tall as the most sought-after firms to earn your stripes and learn the core fundamentals to ground your career.

Every industry has their undisputed leader and, within that organization, is an unwavering commitment and philosophy to professional development.

It is a shame that many of today’s organization’s have convinced themselves that training and professional development is dispensable. They allow other budget lines and business issues to take priority over the investment in people. Their leadership has falsely convinced themselves that they cannot afford the investment spending required to hone and sharpen the skills of their team and people. They rely on yesterday’s spending and lean disproportionately on the capabilities of the few to carry the many. It is short term thinking that, more often than not, leads good organizations down dangerous paths.

A true leader is someone who
does not only produce results
and show efficiency in what he does
but is also one who replicates himself
by developing his people.
–Myron Sta Ana

As the year ends and you are thinking not only about what you accomplished in 2013, but what you want to achieve in 2014, make sure you have placed a priority on learning. We all must take inventory of our professional skills and capabilities. We need to do an honest assessment of where are strengths lie, where we are challenged and identify the specific areas we must focus more attention on.

As managers, we need to do these assessments for our people and be prepared to assist them in closing the skill gaps we identify. As employees, it is fair to expect an honest assessment and resources to support our professional career development. Success in the workplace is a collaborative and mutual relationship that requires honesty, communication and support.

Giving our time and attention to making our lives better, and bettering the lives and careers of those we manage, is all a part of the responsibilities and benefits of having an outrageously wonderful life.

Don’t make the mistake of looking at the glass half full and missing out on the benefits of seeing good people develop into great people…or seeing great people leave your organization!

Leftovers, Love and Laughter

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I think I may have gained a few pounds yesterday. Our family Thanksgiving was a feast for the senses! Nothing beats the aroma of turkey as it roasts it’s final hour across the culinary finish line. The table, spread with the bounty of vegetables, casseroles, breads and traditional dishes was a glorious canvas of color for the eyes.

A full house, we gathered around the table and shared my most favorite annual meal. Following a beautiful prayer, our meal begins by each sharing what we are most thankful for. Young and old, each family member offered up their thoughts on gratitude and love. It was the perfect appetizer to a delicious meal.

The day unfolded with the joys and traditions of our family’s Thanksgiving: sleeping men in front of football while chatting women did dishes, bad movies we all watch and laugh at together, a mean game or ten of dominoes…

Somewhere along the way, someone got hungry – despite the fact we were all stuffed mere hours earlier – and the opportunity for turkey and ham leftovers reappears. Who can resist the call of the beloved leftover Thanksgiving sandwich?

As every Thanksgiving is, and should be, it was a day of love and laughter. It was filled with family, traditions and togetherness. Unfortunately, there were missing faces at our table; some gone to their heavenly reward and others unable to be a part of our holiday. All were missed and lovingly remembered. For being thankful is the most important part of the day.

As we feast in the days ahead on the leftovers, we also get to relive the beautiful moments of our celebration; for the best leftovers are more than culinary. Snippets of laughter, cousins teasing each other, sweet hugs with Mom, and a million other priceless memories will replay in my mind. I can feast on these – calorie free – and enjoy the bounty of my family’s Thanksgiving for days and weeks ahead.

Leftovers, love and laughter … these are the ingredients for a memorable Thanksgiving holiday. And a reminder that I am blessed.

In All Things, We Give Thanks

2013 has been an incredibly tough year. To recall the words of Queen Elizabeth’s speech on November 24, 1992; this year could easily be labeled my Annus Horribilis.

This year has been filled with unexpected challenges at seemingly every turn. My family has weathered challenges that have taken tremendous physical and emotional tolls. We have said goodbye to people we love dearly. Work stress, financial burdens, personal disappointments that shook us to the core; we have felt many times like packing it all in and calling it quits. Yes, it has been an amazingly challenging year. But it has not been one that was a waste.

Somewhere in the midst of the attacks from every angle, we are growing. When all the distractions and noise of the day fall away, the things that matter – which are not things, by the way – stand firm. Faith, family, love still remain. Old friendships are being renewed and the bonds of family grow even stronger. Love is affirmed and faith restored.

We are learning to pray more and talk less about the things that sit heavy on our heart. To focus on our own family and let go of the other distractions weighing us down. We said goodbye to the parts of our life that needed to be let go of, opening the door to new opportunities and beginnings for us all. We have opened the door to Annus Miribilis, or the “wonderful year” that we stand on the doorway to. And yet, for as challenging of a year as 2013 has been, on this day of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to God for it all.

Give thanks in all circumstances.

–1 Thes. 5:18

Did you read that really closely?  It says in all circumstances. That’s not always so easy. It doesn’t says “for” all circumstances, it says “in” all circumstances. So, even if today, you find yourself in the middle of a horrible 2013 and under attack from every angle, you still need to stop and give thanks. I am learning that in the middle of every rotten and wicked situation, God’s fingerprints can be found. In each situation, each circumstance, he has left his imprint and shown me an opportunity for me to be a better me, show his love to another or simply stop and find his beauty in the situation. Yes, we can give thanks in all circumstances, because God is present in every single one.

Today, give thanks. Give true thanks that comes genuinely and sincerely from the heart. When our thanksgiving to God doesn’t lean on the happiness we draw from those around us, but from him, we will find an unspeakable joy and incredible strength. Giving thanks will keep our hearts healthy, open and ready to find love. Yes, the challenges we are bearing may be incredibly difficult and our questions may not have answers, but by giving thanks – even in these circumstances – we will come to know God in ways we never could have imagined.

May your Thanksgiving be blessed, be filled with sincere thanks and your heart be humble to giving thanks for all that you have.  Yes, all…

The Importance of Traditions

PA180042Today is a busy day! I’m about to dash out and pick up my niece, who is joining us for the long holiday weekend from college. She’s my pseudo-daughter (as I call her), for I lovingly get to claim her as my own while her parents live overseas and we get to step in for big events in her life where we can; the distance being too great for Mom and Dad to be here as often as they’d like.

Once we get her picked up, my last-minute “to-do” list is packed. Some baking still needs to be completed, some purchases made to ensure our family meals are perfect and I still have not bought our Thanksgiving puzzle. The weekend would be incomplete without it. Yes, as long as I can remember, we did not have a Thanksgiving without a family puzzle to complete. It is the tradition we love to hate.

Somewhere there must be a card table with an insanely difficult puzzle to put together. My Dad was always the one who held court over the table and was the master of the corners and difficult pieces. Sadly, that torch has been passed to my sister, who has somehow inherited his uncanny ability to find “that little piece with the corner of the cat’s nose, the touch of blue sky and the edge of the wicker basket” that has eluded everyone for days.

Over that puzzle, countless conversations come and go. Brothers and sisters catch up on each others’ lives, Grandchildren get one on one time with Nana, cousins learn they have more in common than they thought. The puzzle is an important centerpiece in our family’s Thanksgiving and a tradition I refuse to relinquish.

We have other priceless traditions for this sacred holiday: Aunt Sally’s Pretzel Salad is required; a silly prayer quickly reminds us of our time with cousins at Grandma’s children’s table: “Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Thank God for the Grub;” a late night meal of sandwiches and hot German potato salad, an ode to our ancestral roots. Traditions are what make this holiday about family, gratitude and togetherness.

Traditions are important in every family; they are the glue that holds families together. In good times, traditions heighten the joy and bring a certain magic to the everyday routine of our lives.  In the rough and rocky patches, those same traditions bring the comfort and stability we need to know that everything can be alright.

Family traditions define who we are. They give us a sense of purpose and identity. Some traditions are steeped in the rich history of our culture and ancestry, bringing family recipes, dances and stories to life when generations gather. Other traditions bring a rhythm and routine to our lives, providing much-needed balance and grounding to an otherwise harried life.

Traditions teach us all the bond of family, bridging the gap from one generation to the next. Whether it is putting a puzzle together, baking, going on an early post-Thanksgiving morning Christmas tree cutting adventure or whatever your family shares, it allows everyone to put away the distractions of the day and be together. Laughter and conversation replaces texting and surfing the net; the intimacy that traditions can create are much-needed in today’s impersonal digital world.

Make time this Thanksgiving weekend to celebrate your family’s traditions. Celebrate the importance of the traditions of your family and don’t overlook the rich history you can pass from one generation to the next. For in celebrating your traditions, you are filling your holiday with love, laughter and a stronger family bond.

Embrace Your Uniqueness

Dipping french fries in mayonnaise. Marshmallow fluff and Nutello sandwiches. Putting socks on sock-shoe-sock-shoe, instead of sock-sock-shoe-shoe. We all have our unique  traits that make us special. Our laugh. Our fingerprint. The way we enter a room, answer the phone or sneeze. They are all a piece of the one-of-a-kind puzzle created to become who we are.

Sometimes being who we are is easy and fun. When others embrace our individuality and celebrate the gifts and talents we have, we can feel amazingly special. People want to experience the music we create, have us put our talents to work for them and share in the excitement of our blessings. It feels good to be us.

But when our gifts are a little off the beaten path, perhaps a little too quirky for the mainstream, people often don’t know how to interact with us. They expect us to put our special selves in a box and conform to their world and expectations. They no longer want us to celebrate who we are, instead they expect us to change and adapt to their vision for us. Being unique can feel like a burden too heavy to bear.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy,

a quickening that is translated through you

into action, and because there is

only one of you in all of time,

this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never

exist through any other medium

and it will be lost.

The world will not have it.”

~ Martha Graham

Yes, there is only one you and one me.  Embracing the person we are is critical and necessary for everyday happiness and to fulfill the reason we are here. Stop trying to please everyone else and live the life someone else chose for you. Embrace the qualities and emotions that bring you life. Pursue the dreams that bring you hope and fuel your inner passion. Dance in the rain if your feet feel like dancing. Dye your hair purple if your inner you screams for it! Embrace all that you are and unlock the door to inner happiness.

If you struggle with what makes you uniquely – and wonderfully – you.  Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Write down 10 things that you love about yourself; yes, at least 10 traits, talents, skills that you absolutely love about yourself. Maybe that you are a fantastic Mom, you love to garden, you are awesome in the kitchen, you are dedicated to health and wellness…if it takes a month of Sundays, so be it! Don’t stop until you can come up with a list of 10 or more.  When you have it, study it. Know that the list you hold is the list is that makes you uniquely you. No one else can ever share that list with you; it is uniquely yours.

I want you to take that list and put it somewhere that you must see it every morning when you start your day. By your toothbrush, your coffee pot, your Bible, where ever your day begins, post that list. And when your day begins, read that list out loud  to yourself. Read it, internalize it, celebrate it; keep telling yourself all those things that are wonderfully, uniquely amazing about yourself until you believe it! And don’t let anyone or anything put doubt in your head that those aren’t your special gifts.  Make them yours and make them the reason to embrace your uniquely wonderful self.

Embracing your uniqueness comes when you do your best to take care of yourself. Take time to rest, regroup, and relax daily. We all must, daily, take the small action steps towards making our dreams a reality. Give yourself permission to get out there and “go for it!” Give yourself permission to disappoint those who expect much and hold you on a pedestal you don’t belong.

Most importantly, don’t change who you are for any one.  Be who you are and live; an outrageously wonderful life will be your reward.

Charitable Judgment: the Antidote to Comdenation

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 5.23.39 AMIt is so easy today to fall into the trap of judging others. With our limited knowledge of the circumstances they face, we can so quickly rush to determining their faults. Society today embraces the notion of judgment through television shows like American Idol, X Factor, Survivor, etc., and in the talk shows of our generation where very personal problems are publicly shared for all.

Judging is necessary in many aspects of our lives. When we make purchases, we must determine if the sales person is telling us the truth. When we are hiring employees or tradespeople to do work, we have to decide if their skills and experiences are as reputable and capable as they present them to be.  Yes, this is judging. As we interact with other people we are constantly interpreting, evaluating and forming opinions regarding their qualities, words, and actions, so that we can respond to them appropriately.

But when our judging turns to comdenation, we have crossed a dangerous line.

There is a passage in the bible that talks about judging others clearly. It reminds us that when we judge others, we need to stop and make sure that our own lives are free from the very errors we hold against others. After all, our natural inclination is to ignore our own faults and make critical judgments of others. How easy it is to cut down others than get on with the work of addressing our own shortfalls.

Instead of judging others with our harsh, brassy words, we need to learn the ways of charitable judgment; to judge with love. To believe the best about others until we have the facts to know otherwise. Showing love versus judging is what we are commanded to do.

Jarl Forsman is the co-founder of gratitudetwentyfourseven.com. She has identified three reasons why we all fall into the trap of judging others. I don’t know about you, but these seem oddly familiar:

1. You wouldn’t tolerate the same behavior or characteristic in yourself.

For instance, you might be shy and encounter a very gregarious person. Your judgment might go something like this: What a show-off. They are so loud and obnoxious. Because you would be embarrassed to act this way, you resent somebody else doing it.

This type of judgment often reveals that you are not fully expressing yourself, so you feel resentful – maybe even put off – by others who do it. Becoming aware of the truth of this reaction and working on expressing yourself more fully and authentically would result in a valuable gift of freer self-expression.

2. You display the same behavior and aren’t aware of it so you project your disowned behavior onto others and dislike it “out there.”

Everyone has encountered the second cause at some point. Someone is complaining about a friend or acquaintance and you think to yourself, “That’s funny, they do the same thing they are finding wrong!”

Taking an honest look within to see if you share some of the characteristics you dislike in others. You may be surprise to learn that you do, and it is likely to offer insight into gaining greater self-acceptance and compassion for others. It goes back to that speck versus plank in the eye lesson from Matthew.

3. You are envious and resent the feelings that come up so you find something wrong with those who have what you want and end up judging them.

Someone who has attained recognition may remind you of your own lack of success in this area. You may resent their accomplishments and then find something wrong with them in order to avoid your own feelings of inadequacy.

Since inspiration is a much more effective motivator than competition, you’d be more likely to experience success if you got inspired by other people’s victories instead of wasting time finding fault with them.

 

Judging others is a natural tendency for all of us and something we will do every day to accomplish the work we must do. Charitable judgment, judging others with love, is necessary and commanded by God. When we use our judgment of others as a mirror to show the workings of our own mind, every person’s reflection can become a valuable gift, making each person we encounter a teacher and a blessing.

Create What You Wish Existed

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 11.12.39 AMClose your eyes. Make a wish. What do you hope for when you empty your mind of all of the distractions and noise that fills your day?

Do you wish for a better life for your children than you had yourself? Are you pleading for health and healing for a loved one fighting for their life? Are you battling internal wars that no one sees; wars the create invisible walls of bitterness and anger to hide the hope and healing you crave? What is your wish?

In this season of thankfulness and in the preparation for the holiday season ahead, there seems to be so many reminders of those who do not allow themselves to feel joy and gratitude. With hurting hearts and very real crises, they do not know how to embrace the love that is all around us. In the midst of all the love and joy, they choose to embrace their pain and cling to it instead of using it as a fulcrum for hope and healing.

I’ve seen some very beautiful stories this year of people who have embraced their pain and used it as a beacon of hope to others. Who have chosen to not wrap themselves in their grief and misery – despite the very fact they are likely entitled to do just that. Instead, they choose to turn their adversity into advantage for others. To give back and find the hope and beauty in their pain so that others might find the road they walk on a little less challenging. They chose to create what they wish had existed.

Meet the family of Brandt Ballenger, at 7 years old he was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor, a pediatric kidney cancer. Brandt’s courageous battle was captured on a Facebook page, entitled Team Brandt. People from all around the world took pictures of themselves with “Team Brandt” signs and posted them to Brandt’s page as a show of support for this brave child during his treatments and fight. His fight ended on July 23, 2013. Team Brandt now continues as a way to honor others who are struggling with childhood cancers and to remember Brandt’s endless courage in random acts of kindness. The Ballenger family continues to create what they wish existed.

Meet Todd and Tara Storch, the founders of Taylor’s Gift, an organization they founded in 2010 to bring new awareness to organ donation after losing their own daughter, 13-year-old Taylor Storch, in a ski accident. Their work has brought heightened visibility to the financial, emotional and medical challenges that are associated with being an organ donor and a transplant recipient. They are working hard to change the conversation about being an organ donor to being a positive discussion about life.  Bravo to the Storch family for continuing to create what they wish existed.

You can google dozens of stories of real life people who have amazing stories of rags-to-riches experiences: Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling. People who were giving unbelievable challenges in life, whether it be their meager beginnings, their abusive parents or spouses; there are many of us who beat the odds of the cards we were dealt and decided to pursue more.

In his role as John Keating in the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams utters these great words of wisdom:

“No matter what people tell you,

words and ideas can change the world.”

Never limit yourself to the walls around you or the boundaries imposed upon you. Life will give you the opportunity to create what you wish. For some, that opportunity may come in a pretty gold package and tied up a beautiful red ribbon. The rest of us will find ours wrapped in the adversity and struggles of life. Whatever way in which the destiny of what you wish for reveals its pathway to you, create it. Don’t sit on the sidelines, wrapped in misery and sorrow. Create what you wish existed.

An Outrageous Thought to Ponder: Begin Again

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Realizing it is time to hit the reset button and begin again is not failure; it is courageous. Taking stock of where you are in life and realizing that the decisions you have made, the situation you are in, the friends you have and the ways in which you handle the stresses of life aren’t healthy takes tremendous introspection and bravery.

Most people don’t have the fortitude to look in the mirror and admit their flaws and own up to the cold, hard reality that the one person responsible for their unhappiness is reflected in the glass before them.

Bravo to you for being so brave and strong! Beginning again is scary. It is hard to shed the familiar people, places and patterns of living – healthy or not – for the unknown path before us.

But down that road of mystery and yet-to-be discovered pathways, happiness awaits! Say farewell to the old with love and begin again! Happiness – true happiness – awaits!

Leading with Kindness

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One of the greatest gifts we can bestow upon each other is kindness. It is the one ability we all possess equally. No matter our age, income, health or status in life; we all have the ability to show kindness to one another. It is the great equalizer among man. No one is immune from receiving it and we are all capable of giving it.

It is sad that we all get caught up in our own busyness and the chaos of our lives that we often forget the importance of simple acts of kindness. Why is it so difficult to stop and catch someone we see falling? To take a moment and console someone who is feeling low? To put the rush of the day on hold and stop and listen to those around us who are crying out for our time and attention? To be present in this day and give of ourselves is to show kindness.

Paying it forward is a great way to live the acts of kindness out loud and visibly share the gifts of love and compassion with others. But don’t mistake the drive-thru games and other “mass” kindness events as the only ways to lead with kindness. The simplicity of life is crying out for all of us to be present and show love to others in the most simple of ways.

Be the one who returns the shopping cart – free of trash – back to the cart corral at the grocery store. Hold the door for the young mother juggling her little ones and her purchases. Smile at the grumpy IT guy who never seems to have a kind word. Take those leftovers to the neighbor man who lives alone, or invite him to join your family for dinner.

          A smile …

          A hello to a stranger …

          Nothing spoken, when harsh words are on the tip of your tongue …

          These are all acts of kindness.

Leading with kindness has become a missing part of civil society. We’ve lost the humanness and decency that comes from leading with kindness; it is no longer commonplace. We seem to reward those who are always kind, treat them as rare beauty and gravitate toward them. Rather – and I know this is radical – we must find those who are routinely unkind, nourish their souls with generous love, huddle around them and lift them up. No act of kindness will ever go wasted and we do not know the private pain and battles that rage within their lives.

You can never do a kindness

too soon,

because you never know

how soon it will be too late.

     –Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a French proverb that says we should write the injuries inflicted upon us in sand and the kindness we’ve been shown in marble. That tells me forgiveness and kindness are ever so important in this life, more important than the wealth, status or friends we accumulate. Those words, “love one another” come back again and again and again.

We must simply lead with kindness and therein true life, this outrageously real and wonderful life, indeed begins.