I am fortunate to travel to HR events all over the place. When I do that, I also get to do my favorite thing – meet people !! Meeting people has always come naturally to me. I feel comfortable meeting anyone at any time in any place. I know this is rare and I don’t expect others to be nearly as comfortable with this as I am.
When I meet someone though, I try a different approach than most. The first thing I make sure to do, every time, is to slow people down from the inevitable traditional greeting launch. I pause and ask their name – even though they’re most likely wearing a name tag. Then, I make sure to share my name again to keep a steady pace.
Here’s where things veer in a different direction . . .
Most people then open a conversation with, “So, tell me what you do.” or “So, where do you work? I never do this even if the other person I’m meeting starts this way. Now, this took an incredible amount of discipline to break the habit because I have been using this opening barrage just like everyone else.
I do this instead, “Hi, Mary, where are you from?”
People freeze. They weren’t expecting a question that fell outside the normal pattern of human interaction. Once they get their bearings, you see something amazing happen. Their shoulders drop and a smile starts spreading across their face. “Oh, I’m from . . .” and then they warmly share this tidbit about themselves.
The entire tone and tenor of this interaction becomes welcoming, warm, and genuine. People don’t posture or try to justify their role in their organization or the brand they work for. It puts people at ease.
Recently, when I was speaking at the Oklahoma SHRM State Conference, I tried my elusive tactic on people and many replied, “I’m from the City.” Not being from Oklahoma I had no idea where that was. I’d kid, “Well, I’m from a city too.” Then they’d blush and stammer to say, “The City is what we call Oklahoma City.” I learned something new and it was fun to do so.
You see, when we ask people to recite their occupation and company, we truly don’t care. We won’t remember it and it’s a clumsy way to get to know someone. When people talk about where they live, they’re open to sharing so much more about themselves willingly.
One caution in the “where are you from” approach. Don’t downplay your location. If you’re from a smaller town or village, share the name of it and where it is proudly. You may need to explain it’s located near a larger, or more well-known city, but that’s okay. When you say, “Oh, you don’t know where this is . . . , ” – you diminish yourself and the conversation.
I was just in a conversation where a friend said, “Yeah, I get to serve in churches in Jumbo and Roundhead.” I knew exactly where these minuscule burgs were in Ohio. He didn’t have to explain or give me more details. I already had the picture that these were small towns and I loved that he was willing to meet people where they lived.
Next week the SHRM Annual Conference is going to happen in Las Vegas, Nevada. The convention center will be teeming with literally thousands of people and it can quickly become overwhelming. I recommend you relax and use this new tool in your “get to meet you” quiver. Trust me, you’ll start enjoying networking far more than you have in the past.
So, when our paths cross, and they will, ask me where I’m from and I’ll do the same !!
The year was 1980 and I was a junior in high school. I was geeked to jump into more college prep courses and one of those was Chemistry. This class was only open to juniors and seniors. Many of my friends signed up as well, but we weren’t really sure how it was going to go. We heard that a new teacher was going to teach Chem and that brought about an air of uncertainty.
We didn’t handle “new” well. I joined the Ada school system in 7th grade and it took me almost an entire year to break in to find my way and make friends. That’s because the vast majority of my classmates had been together since Kindergarten. Now that I’d been accepted into the mix and going to my fifth year with this cohort of peers, I was as skeptical as they were about any new teacher.
As we took our seats, this slender man with large glasses entered the room and turned to the blackboard. With a piece of chalk, he printed his name . . . Mr. Lusk.
It didn’t seem to fit. He was VERY young compared to the much older teachers in our high school. He had a mild demeanor and softly introduced himself.
“Hi there. My name is David Lusk and I’m your new Chemistry teacher. I recently graduated from Ohio Northern University and this is my first class and first day teaching full-time.”
Our jaws hit the floor. He was brand new !! I’m sure he had some student teaching experience, but nothing like taking on a group of juniors and seniors who were extremely close and familiar with each other. We were sure that this was going to go south. Being immature, even though we had all of life already figured out, we made up our minds we were going to give him a shot, but we were going to stretch the boundaries as much as possible too.
The first few weeks were pretty tame. We jumped into learning the Periodic Table and started with the very basic building blocks of Chemistry. He seemed to be chill enough and the classes were interesting. He gave us a schedule of labs we’d be doing and our interest peaked. I hung out with three of my close friends and we maneuvered our desks to be like a little pod in between the two large, long lab stations. We didn’t ask. We just shuffled together and watched to see how Mr. Lusk would respond. He didn’t mind and we didn’t pay attention to the seniors or the other juniors in the room. The seniors were marking time and had little interest in the subject or the new teacher. The girls who were in the class were crazy rule followers and they felt the four of us should get back in the rows of desks like all of the other kids. Upsetting them was icing on the cake.
After about a month, we had an unusually early snow. Our room was on the first floor in the “new” wing of our school. We had a large paned window with a small panel that would jut out just about ten inches. As class was going on, my buddy, Tom leaned over and said, “Watch this. It’s time.” He ducked out of his desk went back to the window and popped it out. Mr. Lusk was writing formulas on the blackboard and people were frantically taking notes.
Tom popped back into his desk with a giant, fresh snowball. “What are you going to do with that?” I asked. “You’ll see.” He stood up and threw the snowball to the front of the room easily and it smashed into the blackboard !! We sat there in awe and anticipation to see how the new teacher would react. Tom was ready to get busted and go to the Principal’s office. It was an epic act of anarchy and we were sure he was going down.
What happened next set our opinion of Mr. Lusk going forward. He reached up calmly, wiped off the wet streaks of snow and kept writing the formulas. Not a word. He didn’t turn around. No reaction at all. As we received evil glares from the rule girls about what dorks we were, we sat there in pure admiration. Class ended about thirty minutes later and Mr. Lusk still didn’t bite on our attempt to rattle him.
The four of us formed a group called The Conclave (we were massive nerds in school) and we decided we’d be Mr. Lusk’s champions and supporters from then on. It was the best decision Tom, Jamie, Greg and I ever made. We ended up learning lesson after lesson from Mr. Lusk. He even added Chem II and taught Physics our senior year. We were the first to sign up. Tom and I also scheduled it so that every, single study hall, we went to the Chem room to hang out with Dave.
After graduation, we still made sure to stay in touch with Mr. Lusk and drop in every so often to see how he was doing. Every time we did, he’d explain that we were his first class with pride. He continued to check in with us long after we completed college, got married, had kids, and stepped into our careers.
This weekend, I was able to go to his retirement party 43 years after he stepped into that Chemistry room with a bunch of goofy juniors. He has been honored year after year as the best teacher and most beloved teacher at the high school. He has taught well over 1,000 kids the joy, magic, and importance of Chemistry and Physics. He was active in tons of additional activities including running the school Quiz Teams, overseeing Student Government, and taking trips to Cedar Point to let kids enjoy the amusement park.
The receiving line for Mr. Lusk started at 2:00 pm and didn’t wane until the reception was over at 5:0o pm. An endless group of people including community members, former teachers, members of his church, and alumni from the many years he taught came to tell him “Thank you” for all he had done.
Greg Lavan and I were the two members of his first class who came back. You need to remember when Dave was starting his teaching journey, he was 22 years old and we were . . . 17 !! We were basically peers. We’re on the precipice of entering our 60s and he is just a bit ahead.
When I was able to have some time with him, we embraced with a deep fondness. I tried as best I could to express to him how he changed my life and I wouldn’t be who I am without his investment. We both had tears welling up in our eyes as we shared our moment and I giggled as he stood in his Monty Pythonesque “I’m not dead yet . . .” t-shirt and jeans.
I spent hours with Greg and another classmate, Dave West, who was a year younger than us and we shared hours of stories, laughs and joy about Mr. Lusk and his impact on our lives and the lives of others.
Left to right: Dave West, Steve Browne, Mr. Lusk and Greg Lavan
I spent five hours a week with Mr. Lusk for a year in class and then ten hours a week my senior year in class and infinite hours skipping study hall. He embraced The Conclave and every. single. student. who entered his classroom over his 43 years. He left a mark that set direction in my life and had as much of a meaningful, lasting impression as my parents. I love him and he knows it.
I share this story not only to honor him but to remind you dear reader that you leave a mark on people every time you encounter them. This is true whether you intend to or not. Don’t overlook this. Choose to leave a positive, long-lasting impact and influence as Mr. Lusk did.
You never know what will come of this. Being intentional and cognizant of this reality will shape your attitude and approach toward others. I have taken the example Mr. Lusk exhibited to heart. I do my best to be mindful of leaving a positive impact on people every time I have a chance to be with others.
To thank Dave, I found a mint copy of Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police issued in 1980 the first year he taught. Greg and I signed it as two members of The Conclave. One last chance to leave a memento. So grateful that he swiped the snowball off the board and kept going. He has made an everlasting and eternal investment in the lives of many because he did.
As I mentioned last week, my travels have filled my quiver with new stories and experiences. I would encourage you when you have the opportunity to attend events to make sure you do this as well. It never made sense to me that people would go to events to get credit hours to ensure they kept their letters behind their names. I know it’s important and I turn my hours in too, but it’s the last reason I go to anything.
It brings me to this week’s story. I was fortunate to meet and connect with the wonderful and talented, Rachel Druckenmiller !! I knew she was a fellow speaker at the conference, but I wanted to get to know her as a fellow human. (This is another thing I do at conferences. Treat speakers like approachable humans and get to know them.)
We hit it off and jumped into conversations as if we had been friends for years. I loved hearing about her family and getting to know all about her. Taking the time to hang out made it even more meaningful when I saw her take the stage to open day two as a keynote. I loved her people-centric message and approach. She had tons of relevant content that was instantly applicable to every person at their company.
One point she brought up was how all of us tend to view others in the workplace. We, unfortunately, overlook the amazing people around us and get sucked into the vortex of those who are challenging. If you don’t think that’s true, step back and listen to the conversations happening in the halls. I guarantee you that the talk is negative and focused on how people disappoint us. I think we secretly enjoy talking about people this way because we then feel we have value when we address and “fix” this.
It’s not healthy and it’s misaligned. I was agreeing with Rachel when she dropped a bomb to switch this approach altogether. She said, “Too often we say the person is the problem when it may be that the person has a problem.”
Look at that sentence again !! Changing one word from “is” to “has” completely reframes everything. Imagine how HR and the workplace would look if we had a “has” mentality in working with others. I believe it would radically transform you personally and would assuredly transform your workplace.
Yes, people can be challenging. With this, we need to remember that we are people too !! I would want others to see if I was facing a problem or working through some facet of life instead of having people label me and talk about me negatively. I’m sure you would as well.
I find talking about people as if they’re the problem is exhausting and never-ending. This must change. If we want to foster, develop and sustain a people-first culture, then we have to come at our work from a positive perspective. This week adopt a “has” approach and drop the “is” approach. Trust me, you’ll see immediate results and begin to understand you have always been surrounded by amazing humans.
I haven’t been writing the past few weeks because I took some time “off” to pursue one of my other passions – speaking. I was fortunate to have been asked to present at three conferences – Workhuman in San Diego, the Oklahoma State SHRM HR Conference in Oklahoma City, and the New Mexico State SHRM Conference in Albuquerque. Being that I live in West Chester, Ohio just outside of Cincinnati it’s taken me some time to understand and acclimate to the different time zones I found myself in. I’m just now getting back into a regular wake/sleep cycle.
Each event was magnificent in its own way !! I could write blog posts about each one for weeks and weeks to come. A highlight for me at each conference involved a mix of seeing familiar friends I’ve met over the years accompanied by meeting scores of new people. There is nothing that captures my attention as much as this. I’ve always been wired around people throughout my life. I can’t get enough of meeting and engaging with new folks.
At New Mexico SHRM, the incredible volunteer leaders burst into the main room and brought people to their feet with music, dance, clapping, and extravagant purple sequined coats and hats. Energy and anticipation were high as they set the mood for the full conference ahead. They shared details of the schedule, thanks for all of the work people had done to pull the conference together, encouragement to visit and chat with exhibitors and sponsors, and more. I was used to this cadence because it reflected a pattern I’ve seen at many SHRM State Conferences. It was so well done and I personally was getting more geeked myself to be a part of what was about to happen.
While waiting to take the stage and open the event, I was fortunate to experience something that put things into perspective in a way I’ve rarely experienced at past HR gatherings. Margaret (a new friend by the way) took to the podium. She is Navajo and she explained the conference had a Native track and then she introduced the amazing Gabriel Ayala to open the conference with a prayer and a song. He is a singer, musician and artist also from the Navajo nation.
Margaret and Gabriel welcomed everyone as fellow “five-fingered beings.” They explained that the Navajo described humankind as five fingers because it is something that binds us all together as humans. I was floored. Something so visible, obvious, and yet overlooked by all of us.
Gabriel encouraged us to embrace each other as fellow five fingers. He noted it is far better for us to see how we have a common bond than it is to continue to try and tear each other apart. He acknowledged we are all unique and have known differences that make us strong as fellow five-finger beings. He then sang a prayer in his original language as tears rolled down my cheeks.
It was perfection. To recognize and affirm we are all humans should be at the opening of every HR event !! Too often we focus and dwell on those situations and circumstances that exhaust us. As HR pros we forget we have a common bond and we fall into the trap of the dark side of human behavior. We don’t see how to step back and get out of the muck.
Take heart !! The majority of people around us are fantastic most of the time. As humans the “all of the time” standard is out of reach. However, most of the time is very adequate. We need to take the advice of Margaret and Gabriel and call upon our five fingerdness.
This week when the urge to focus on the negative starts to well up within you, look down at your hands. Then, remember the people you will work with have those same five fingers. Value them as fellow humans first and foremost. Trust me, it will reshape your day, your outlook, and your approach.
(The artwork above is Gabriel’s native take on The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album. You know I needed to have this !!)
In the past, I’ve been sharing about home repair adventures at our daughter’s home in Indianapolis. Every time we visit we’re sure to be doing some sort of project, and we love being able to help. During Easter weekend, Melanie reached out and surprised me by asking if I’d like her help to repair our split rail fence. I jumped at the chance !!
My wife and I have lived in the same home since 1991. When we moved in, we were excited about the beautiful split rail fence that bordered our backyard. The family we replaced had a dog so there was an extra wire fence attached to the split rails. I took the interior wire fence down soon after we established our home. We didn’t anticipate getting a dog ourselves and I wanted to fully enjoy the wooden perimeter.
Over time we’ve had rails rot to the point of needing to be replaced. The horizontal pieces aren’t much of a challenge. The hardest part is getting them from the hardware store back to our house while protruding out the back of my SUV. I’ve figured the slow-motion transportation out, and find that I’m replacing three to five rails each year. I’m good with that. The extreme hurdle that has only occurred three times in 32 years is when a vertical post breaks off.
This usually occurs at the post’s base but it results in six rails being affected. Something you may not know is that split rail vertical posts reside in a hole about 2 to 2 1/2 feet deep. So, getting the partial, buried part of the post out of the ground is physically difficult. However, you need to get it out before replacing it with a new post.
When Mel got home we traveled to one of the big box hardware stores near us to buy a vertical post and five replacement rails. We had two remaining from when the fence breach occurred and I was sure we could replace a few more around the yard. After two hours, lots of mud and water were removed along with the buried post remnant, and a hole appeared. We placed the new vertical post and made sure it was level. We put the two past rails in their place and added four brand-new rails. The fence had been in disrepair for over two years. I didn’t have the right weather, enough time, or a willing helper. It was easier to leave the gaping hole and make excuses than face the work needed to fix the fence.
We all have relationships in our lives that could use some mending – personally and professionally. I’m not going to venture into when there’s splintering in our personal lives. I’m sure there are circumstances and experiences I have little context about to give any specific advice. I would like to mention this though – Our time with the people in our lives is limited. Why have that time wasted with fences that could be mended if you took the time and steps needed to attempt that? I know some personal relationships in my life need more of my intentional attention. I’m willing to try and hope I can get them back in place.
At work, we’re better when there aren’t broken fences. Too often we spend time talking about how relationships are fractured to other people who aren’t part of the relationship. We avoid going to the people involved for some of the same reasons I chose not to fix my split rail fence. We tell ourselves we don’t have time, and we’re sure that it won’t help. This can’t be the case. Companies that continue to work in a manner where factions of people pull each other apart will never be as successful as they could be.
HR pros need to be the ones who go to the hardware store, get the materials needed, and then pull the people together who need the mending. Being willing to step in to bring the organizational fence back in order is essential to leading from the HR chair. Instead of listening to the complaints and conversations where people keep the fences broken, take the time to turn things around by resolving that you won’t allow for any gaps in your perimeter anymore.
We need to realize that when our boundaries are in place and relationships are healthy, then people can perform. When they perform, the company succeeds as a whole and among each employee involved.
This week, look around your company’s backyard and determine where your fence needs attention. Then, get to the store buy the rails needed and start mending.
A situation recently occurred that I can’t shake. I share about my family often, and I’m fortunate to have such an amazing, supportive wife and incredible kids. They are well on their adulting ways which is a new parenting adventure itself. It’s wonderful to take the steps of life together including the highs and lows, the joys and challenges.
Our son lives in the greater San Diego area while my wife and I are in Ohio. Having him thousands of miles away has its downside because it would be great to see him in person more easily and often. However, I’m also geeked he is in a place where he can stretch boundaries and make a life for himself. One thing Josh won’t readily admit is that he and I are more alike than not. He is creative, emotional, passionate, and talkative and struggles when he feels confined by authority (just like the author of this post).
We have an agreement that if he ever feels like he’s going to lose it, I’m his first call before he reacts. Please don’t think he’s ready to pop at any random moment. Sometimes, the emotions just build up and I’d rather be a safe outlet than have that release be detrimental to him or others. I’m proud of him and love him more than I can express. So, if I get a call that doesn’t quite fit my time zone but it fits his, I pick up the phone.
A few weeks ago that happened. He called me as both his Dad and his HR counsel. His work situation isn’t good. He works for a branch of a nationally known bank for a difficult manager. Please understand every time we talk about his work environment, I make sure to talk about what he’s facing AND his part in it. It’s too easy to have him, or someone at work, just complain about their supervisor. Everyone does this to some extent at some time. You need to make sure to see if there is an issue or if it’s a mismatch of styles and approaches.
In his current job, he’s hit both. The branch has the highest turnover of all branches for people in his role. He has stuck with them through all of this and has the most tenure even though it’s only a little over one year. I won’t go into details of why I received his call because he’s going to work through it – as he should personally and professionally.
The part of the conversation that broke me was that he was two words into the call, “Hi Dad . . .” when he burst into tears. The kind of crying where you can’t catch your breath. I felt helpless sitting at my desk knowing I couldn’t get to him and embrace him for comfort.
“You told me to call you. I don’t want to f&*#ing go back to work. I just don’t. I can’t take it anymore,” he was able to get out between the sobs.
“You don’t have to. You can walk out. I don’t know that you should, but you have that ability. Before you do that, tell me what’s going on,” I inquired.
Fifteen minutes later, we landed in a good place and he went back to work. Even though the call was so emotionally charged, I was grateful he reached out to me first. I got another call a few weeks later because of another incident. He shared what happened and we went through more time together calmly so he could continue to move forward. I’m not sure where this will land, but I hope he leaves this situation with a challenging manager to find another opportunity where he can apply himself. I know it’s just around the corner if he takes the first step.
No one wants to see their children struggle. Life is tough. It will have struggles. No one is exempt from this. You wonder if you’re making enough of a difference and an impact to make sure they know they are loved and supported. Not just with words, but with actions and behavior.
I share this story because I know I go to work with a multitude of others who are also working through “life” in various ways. It may involve children, parents, finances, decisions, disappointments, etc. Regardless of what is in front of everyone, they bring what they’re facing to their jobs. They do their best to put those interactions aside to focus on their work. Most of us mask things enough as to not let others in because we don’t want to burden them with our “stuff.” I get that. However, to be flippant, ignorant, or dismissive of what others have going on is unacceptable.
We can’t pretend we’re interested in the well-being or mental health of others if we ignore what people are experiencing. It’s naive and narrow-minded. I’m not going to give you a method, approach, or steps to follow because I don’t have the context and knowledge of the people you’re around. This is only a request for all of us to be more conscientious and aware that the work people do is literally a very, very small portion of their lives. It may be where we interact, but it is strongly influenced and swayed by life’s circumstances.
Just knowing you’re available to genuinely be present for others is enough. It’s a start many long for because too few have that assurance. You need to be that “first call” like I am for Josh for others. It makes a huge difference !!
After the first call, Josh texted my wife and me to thank us for being there for him. He shared a song that he said he plays to remind him of this truth. He said it gets him through because it’s how life has been so far. He knows we are always his “home” even though we’re miles apart. He shared the link in the text and I began to weep. These weren’t tears of sadness. They were tears of love and support.
As I compose this post, I am blissfully exhausted. That’s because I spent another weekend working at our daughter’s house. This time it wasn’t due to the age of her house resulting in another repair to modernize the 105-year-old beauty. Now, we’re on to making the interior of her house her own. That, of course, means painting.
Quick aside – I love to paint rooms !! I really do. It’s a great workout and I can get lost in the activity and wonderment of adding a new color to the walls. I usually isolate myself, turn on a Spotify playlist, and zone out. I don’t mind the mess, the clean-up or the level of taping and/or difficulty. The only thing I dread painting is ceilings. Ugh. They are the worst !! Guess what we painted this weekend . . . ceilings.
Not only were we going to tackle ceilings, we had to disassemble three ceiling fans and five of the seven rooms had textured ceilings. (Can you hear the screams which happened in my head ??) To make sure we were prepared, we referenced the number one resource available to one and all – YouTube. Thank goodness we did. Did you know that you need to use the roller in one direction instead of pulling it back and forth when you paint a textured ceiling? I never did. If you paint them like you’d paint a wall, the texture can become too heavy and pull away from the ceiling. Eek !!
We also saw how to use a paint screen in your 5-gallon bucket so you don’t have to lug a paint pan around. The next challenge was about my approach and had nothing to do with a method of painting. I’m not a very focused person. I tend to have a multitude of thoughts and ideas swimming in my head at all times. There’s usually some musical tune resonating as well. That is my normal. Put this reality to painting white paint on a white, textured ceiling. It was so difficult to see what areas I had covered and which parts I may have missed.
I realized I was making little progress so I did something completely against my nature. I paused, took a deep breath and decided to use a disciplined approach. I looked at the ceiling in sections and then made sure that each stroke of the roller (in one direction) slightly overlapped the next one. It seemed to be tedious to my normally frenetic brain, but it worked. Methodically, I worked down the family room and completed the first coat. Moving into the dining room I felt more confident understanding that discipline was going to be the key to becoming more efficient. And, it was !!
Most HR pros don’t view the word “discipline” positively. It’s the tar pit we find ourselves in when we have to address the behavior of someone. It’s usually not positive behavior either. Because of the negative implications of the word and the work of disciplining others, I never like hearing the word. This is a mistake because having discipline is much different than having to discipline someone.
So, I’d like to throw this challenge out to my HR peers. Let’s embrace the beauty of discipline so we can “coat” the landscape and environments we work in. By having a steady sense of movement we’d find ourselves moving forward far more than we would be stuck in the negativity of the profession. What do you say? I think it’s worth the effort. Let’s see what happens !!
By the way, I finished all the ceilings and had a fabulous weekend with our daughter.
If you’re a member of my immediate family, then you know that this time of the year is occupied with one thing . . . basketball. I grew up playing myself for years and when I got married, my amazing wife came to games I played as an “adult.” I started coaching local teens before I had kids of my own and then they started playing !! Our daughter played through high school and our son played through elementary school.
Layer on top of all of this frantic basketball activity we’re avid in-person and TV basketball watchers. We became fans of Xavier University living in greater Cincinnati. For years we were fortunate to go to games at the Cintas Center and we loved every moment. Throughout the college basketball season, one game or another is sure to be playing. My wife has even mentioned she’s often a basketball widow. It’s taken her decades to understand the nuances of the game, but now I’ll hear her scream, “That was traveling !!” It warms my heart.
During the NCAA tournament, nothing else is on TV. Nothing. We watch teams we cheer for and also ones we don’t know. We have a family bracket (of course) and more often than not Debbie wins (the one who never played.) We’re glued to every result and we exclaim disappointment and angst when any of our picks are wrong. They are inevitably wrong because it’s nearly impossible to choose the winner of every game. When a lower seed upsets an upper seed there’s added excitement even when it busts your bracket.
In fact, we love when the underdog surprises the favorite and wins. I especially like it because the sportscasters become flummoxed and tongue-tied. They are at a loss for words because they’ve been conditioned to primarily focus on the favorites. The networks also appear to do research and stats for the bigger programs and schools of note. The cynic in me also feels the networks want the favorites to win because that means more people watching and bigger advertisement dollars.
This makes the win of bracket busters even sweeter. The lower seeds are filled with talented players. They may not be future NBA superstars, but any athlete who has the skills to play at the collegiate level is more talented than most. It’s great to see the players who are on the teams who caused the upset talk because they ALWAYS talk about their team as a whole. Always. This is true even if one or two of their players excelled more than the others. There is a team mentality that makes them more cohesive and effective.
I believe we should have the same mentality and approach you get from the bracket busters in the workplace. Every employee who you work with is talented. Every. Single. One. Bringing employees together as a collaborative team is what we should strive to build. It’s great if you get a few people who may have a stronger skillset in one area or another, but they perform even better when they’re part of a larger team.
We need to move away from focusing primarily on a few people and see how each person can thrive and move the organization forward. Start making the effort to pull folks together into teams throughout your company. Make a group of bracket busters and see how you unlock the talent that is already present !!
One of the truly surreal aspects of my life is that people send/give me gifts. Even typing it sounds weird. You need to know how much I appreciate if/when it happens because I see the thoughtfulness behind them. You see, most of these objects reflect my quirks and personality traits I openly share through interactions online and during presentations. I never take any of these meaningful actions for granted.
Recently, when I had the chance to speak at HR Tampa, my dear friend Carol gave me something and said, “I got this to add to your collection.” There is nothing more heartwarming than that sentiment. For some context, when I travel to give presentations, I take my office. I have a table set up next to me filled with various and sundry objects. You’ll find llamas, lava lamps, Magic 8 Balls, a KISS Pez dispenser set, and more oddities. I refer to this assemblage of items during my talks. People love toys. We loved them as kids. We couldn’t get enough of them. As adults, we lose sight of the joy of play in work and in life so these are a constant reminder to keep that joy alive !!
Back to Carol’s gift . . .
She got me a wonderful “On Air” sign like you’d see at TV or radio stations. It lights up and I love it !! I reference it when I have a chance to be on a podcast, prepare for an upcoming presentation or whenever I sit down to write. I wasn’t sure where I could find a good place for it. I would love to have it travel with me and turn it on at a conference, but I’m afraid it would get damaged. I looked around my house and found the perfect place for it in my basement. It’s the one room my wife has deemed “okay” for me to fill with my countless “treasures.”
As I looked at the glowing sign, I was reminded that too often as people we feel we always have to be “on” when it comes to interacting with others. Very few people are comfortable enough to put themselves forward without a bit of hesitation when meeting others. There may be a good reason for this because of how people see themselves or how others have treated them in the past.
Being “on” is tiring though, isn’t it? Having the feeling that you can’t be yourself when you’re surrounded by other people has to be exhausting. How do you keep up the image and face you want others to see? Do you feel it’s truly protecting your self-esteem to do this? Isn’t this constant feeling of being on a stage actually keeping others at arm’s length when it may be safe to have them get to know the real you?
I am an uber extrovert. Always have been. When I get into a situation where others are present, I get excited !! I want to meet each and every person and get to know them. I’m interested in hearing their stories about who they are, what they do and how they view life. I realize this is not how most people view meeting or interacting with others. I also know I can be a bit overwhelming if I just jump into a situation with extensive amounts of energy. People have made the assumption that I’m just acting that way to be “on.”
That’s not the case at all, but I can see how you can construe this. People also assume that since I express such extroversion I have no downtime. I can understand that misconception because all of us base our pictures of others on snapshots. When you evaluate how much time you actually spend with others, it doesn’t add up to much time at all. However, we can create full-blown images of how people must act ALL. THE. TIME. from these short encounters.
I would like to suggest we step back a bit and try not to project such a complete judgment of others. It’s rarely on-point and puts people in a box. Since most people do feel the pressure to be “on,” we may not get an accurate take on them as wonderful humans. This is such a miss in our company’s culture and the workplace as a whole. Instead of having people feel they need to be on or that we construct a box for them to neatly fit in, why don’t we look at things differently?
Wouldn’t it be perfect if when two people came together, they turned on their “On Air” light to show how talented, engaged and amazing they are? There would be no other expectation. People would feel safe to turn on their lights because YOU turned yours on first to show genuine interest in them for who they are. No pretense. No gamesmanship. Just a welcoming light to let them know you couldn’t wait to hear from them.
I love Carol’s gift. It’s a solid reminder. We can unlock the light of others when we choose to turn ours on and focus on them. When it’s time to rest, recharge and contemplate, we can turn off the light for a moment. It’s good for our well-being to not always be “on.”
This week shift and realize that it’s better to be yourself – quirks and all. When it’s time to turn your “On Air” light on, do it to intentionally engage with others. You’ll start to see you’ve always been surrounded by amazing people, and they’ll see you as well.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I went down to Tampa, Florida. Going from gray and dreary Ohio in February to bright and sunny Florida is a treat !! We combined a trip around meeting HR peers as I spoke at an HR Tampa chapter dinner meeting. We decided to add a few days away and recharge our batteries to break the winter doldrums.
The time with the folks at the chapter meeting was a wonderful start to our trip. We had asked some people who visited Tampa often along with the locals for ideas of places to see and activities to do. Everyone was eager to give us suggestions of restaurants off the beaten path and small towns full of charm. One of those locations was Tarpon Springs, Florida. It’s a little over 30 miles northwest of Tampa and is nestled close to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a kitschy little burg which has a center of town full of souvenir shops and Greek restaurants. You may wonder why a Florida town would have such a strong Greek presence, and that is its wonderful secret !!
Years and years ago Greek nationals traveled across the Atlantic to settle and work in Tarpon Springs because they could “fish” for sponges. Yes, sponges. Most people don’t realize or know that sponges are living organisms anchored to the ocean floor. They act as filters, shelters, and homes for various creatures. Just like the sponges you have around your house, these really can be used to absorb liquid and clean surfaces. The difference with these beauties is that they come in various shapes, sizes, and types. My wife and I learned about so many different types of sponges we never knew existed.
As unabashed tourists, we meandered and tarried through every single store. We took our time and looked at the rows and shelves full of tchotchkes and sponges. There was so much to consider and take in and we weren’t sure which one would be “just right” for us to take home. My wife was keen on finding a Vase Sponge. After an incredible Greek lunch at Costas (you MUST try this place if you’re ever in Tarpon Springs !!), we worked our way to a few final shops and we found what we had been seeking. We picked up a magnificent sponge and took it home with us.
We weren’t sure where to display this spectacular creation of nature, but then it found its way to our coffee table in our family room. It grabs and holds your attention the moment you enter the room. There are countless nooks and crannies throughout. It has a defined pattern that builds upon itself and you can almost picture it sitting in water even though it is now on dry land.
I really enjoy having the sponge in our house as a visible reminder. The reminder is that everyone, including myself, should be a sponge themselves that is constantly seeking to take in new information, perspectives, and learning.
There used to be a strong movement for people to choose to be lifelong learners which captured the focus of learning and development initiatives. It had a spark and energy behind it and many organizations and HR pros put together efforts for this to occur. Like most initiatives, it lost steam and couldn’t be sustainable. That’s a shame because it’s more than an aspirational desire.
Being spongy and learning helps us to remain sharp, current, and relevant. If we only stick with the knowledge and experience we currently possess, then we actually become stagnant and stuck. Why would you want that to be how you approach work and life?
This week get out of the tarpit you find yourself in and read a book, listen to a podcast, read some blogs, attend a webinar or plan to go to a conference. See what is floating and flowing all around you. Then, be a sponge to take in all you learn and absorb it so you can grow yourself and help your organization move forward. You’ll be surprised how much you can take in !!