Become a Lead Singer !!

A few weeks ago one of my best friends and I saw a fave band of mine from the early 2000’s – CAKE. They played at an outdoor venue where you had to stand for the entire show. There were 3 rows of “VIP seats,” but they stood as well.   The band was tight and their musicianship was astonishing !!

The people who came to see CAKE were anxious for them to hit the stage. You could hear the hum of a murmur wondering when we’d see the band. Now, if you aren’t familiar with their music, they’re truly unique. The band has a lead singer who “sings” while sometimes talking through the songs and playing a rhythm guitar. The lead guitarist is a genius who drops incredible hooks while strumming every note. A bassist and a drummer provided a solid background foundation for each tune. Their work blended in seamlessly. In addition, there’s a true artist who plays a solo trumpet, keyboard, and ancillary percussion. He’s amazing !!

Everyone throughout the venue sang all the songs we knew and if you stumbled through the lyrics, your fellow concertgoers didn’t care and didn’t correct you. The idea of having a shared experience was far more the focus than being accurate or correct. If you swayed or madly danced, it was fine. Everyone was in sync. The lead singer led several crowd sing-a-longs with ease. He didn’t have to coerce the masses to perform. They were eager for the opportunity !!

You’ll have to trust me that when he split the crowd in two to sing the fab song – Sick of You – it was magic. People who would most likely never sing in public or take a stage belted out their part with ease. Men and women, younger and older, fans or curious concert attendees sang. Not one person stood there quietly. Not. One.

Now, this isn’t a concert review. It’s an observation.

 What if we could make our company culture have this same vibe ?? Everyone comes to work with anticipation about the day ahead. Your co-workers are geeked to see you and are actually elated that you are. No one harps on mistakes that are made. There’s a sense of camaraderie where people lean in and make sure everyone succeeds.

There’s a “lead singer” who captures the vibe of the workplace and together the organization performs a mix of hits and rare deep cuts.   Sound out of reach ?? I don’t think it is. The key is our approach and how we view people. If we could look out on our “crowd” and get them to all sing along, imagine how fulfilling our days would be.

Aren’t you tired of always trying to repair and fix the multitude of factions that break out in the workplace? Is this all you think HR and leadership have to offer? It would be easy to think so because we swim in this mess daily. We’re so used to the constant fragmentation of people we don’t even look for a solution. We just exhale a deep sigh, drop our shoulders, and dive in.

It’s never worked and we may experience minor successes here and there, but it will be short-lived. I think it’s time we took the concert approach and become lead singers in our organizations. We know the songs and we can rally our fellow musicians to play the notes in the correct order to pull everyone together. You can emphasize that they play their part and their instrument because that is the skill and talent they bring to their role and the company.

It’s possible and it works. Time to step up to the microphone, raise your hands, and reach out to the people eager to follow and participate. Take the lead !!

To get you started, here’s a slice of Cake !!

A Bag of Apples

I’m a greeter. Always have been since I can remember. I grew up in a small town in Ohio where I saw my mom and dad greet every person by name. When I’d go to school or walk uptown, I would greet almost everyone because that’s what you did. If anyone ever drove by, you’d give them a wave whether you knew them or not.

Heading to college, I made sure to dive in to meet my classmates in my dorm and most of my classes if they were willing to let me. When I was a college senior, my friends hated walking to and from class with me because it would take extra time since I’d say “Hi !!” to everyone including their name. Entering the world of work, I tried to incorporate this practice but found that people became more resistant to this. There was this sense that you greeted people IF you had business to do with each other or to be polite. This led to the pit of casually greeting people without really meaning it.

I struggled because I didn’t see the point of the drive-by greeting. It was, and still is, vapid and insincere. I could tell people were thinking of other things that were “far more important” than greeting one another. For a while, I was a bit forlorn of the work and adult world being so comfortable with being impersonal. Only for a while. I decided after about a month in my first job to be intentional about greeting once again and I haven’t stopped since – 37+ years later.

In fact, I doubled down on this habit. I did all I could to meet folks, remember their name, and then make sure to touch base with them every time our paths crossed at work. I wasn’t quite fulfilled so I started volunteering at the Cincinnati Zoo with a group of wonderful humans called the Young Friends of the Zoo. I stepped up to be the chair of the group’s primary fundraiser at my first meeting with one catch. I wanted to give an announcement at each meeting about our efforts and then meet everyone who attended. I met my future wife at this group who, by the way, thought it was annoying that I wanted to meet everyone. She would avoid me on purpose, but I wore her down and I’m grateful I did !!

I took my greeting mission to the HR Roundtable I began facilitating 23 years ago. I would stand outside to greet each person who chose to attend get to know them, and thank them for making the time. This transferred to the HR chapter when I started going there and stepped into leadership. I continue to expand my greeting initiative whenever I go to HR conferences locally, regionally, at State events, and of course at the massive Annual Conference.

I’ve also been greeting at my church over this same time because my bucket is never filled. There’s always a new face to meet. What’s intriguing is to see people’s reactions when they know they’re truly noticed and acknowledged and that someone is geeked to see them. It’s a joy to make a genuine connection. You don’t know how it lands with those I greet, but that doesn’t deter me.

Then, there’s this weekend. There’s a girl at my church who I’ve known since she was very young and now she’s nearing middle school. Her name is Avalee and she is always bashful and shy when she comes to the door. I make sure she especially gets a greeting !! She’s intelligent, a burgeoning swimmer, and has a big heart. She came up to the door and handed me a brown lunch bag that was ornately decorated and bursting at the seams.

“What’s this?” I asked. “We went to an apple orchard yesterday, and I picked these for you,” she replied. I was speechless. I thanked her as she went past me with her ever-present Mom and Grandmother. I was floored by her simple gesture. I was making sure her family was cordially greeted, and she broke through with an unexpected return.

It’s that simple.

We are surrounded by a sea of humanity each and every day. If I had to guess, we either feel people are in the way of the task we have our mind set on or we feel that greeting each other is a polite nuisance. How sad is that?

I know I’m wired this way and I’m not expecting others to mimic my overt sense of wanting to meet every person possible. However, you can slow down and understand that the people around you are there for a reason. Your simple greeting could lead to a loving gesture. It may leave a lasting impression or be one spark of light that is needed to break through just at the right time. Wouldn’t that make the world a better place? I know it would and I hope you give it a try !!

The Reality of Rest

If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you know I’m a person who is on the go most of the time. Activity fills my bucket. I have a driving urge that my next experience is going to be an adventure !! I’m not talking about something grandiose either. Meeting a unique person in a shop in a small town. Having an encounter with a stranger that turns out to be unexpected and interesting. Working on our daughter’s house to repair, paint and give it her touch. The list can be endless.

I eagerly enter each day with anticipation that something amazing is sure to occur. I know. This sounds naive and superficial. I can assure you it’s not. Ever since I can remember, I have seen life as robust with opportunities to look around the next corner at something completely new. Always being on the go has a price though . . .

I’m not good at resting. Never have been. This endless yearning of wonderment runs counter to slowing down even for a moment. I tend to collapse even after a full day at work. The energy I try to pour into others while also getting them to see life from a brighter perspective is exhausting. I’m not complaining. I’d have it no other way. I just want you to know that the science of expending energy affects me greatly as I’m sure it does you.

Most people I know collapse or burst. They either run themselves into the ground with countless tasks they attack and at times accomplish. Or, they sprint as if there is no end to a race and then explode emotionally. This results in a few days off either from your body slowing you down because you won’t pay attention or a mini vacation just to remove yourself from the hectic pace.

Bursting is as unhealthy as collapsing. We convince ourselves this isn’t the case and we tell ourselves that our company, department, project, etc. would surely fail if we weren’t constantly diligent and present. I fully believe in self-worth and self-assuredness in life. However, if we delude ourselves into feeling we are indescribably valuable, then we lack the most important “self” – self-awareness.

This weekend, I decided to be intentional and embrace the reality of rest. I put down my phone, went out with my wife and friends to music trivia and some drinks, and even slept in on Saturday morning !! All day Saturday, I limited my activity and drive to always do something. That resulted in watching a movie, getting some ice cream after making dinner in our Instant Pot, and even squeezing in a nap. Just one day of slowing down helped me mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Today I went to church, washed our cars, and sat down to write this blog. Limiting my activity didn’t hurt one bit and as far as I can tell, the world is still spinning. I was on social media but barely. Later, I plan to pick up a book and read or even start a puzzle without a screen in sight.

People are still milling around and falling into the trap that hustling and running is a needed component in today’s society while I chose to rest. We can’t advance the cause of well-being if we don’t take care of ourselves. Rest is needed SO we can get back in, stay active and thrive.

This week break the pattern of collapsing or bursting. Encourage others to do the same throughout your family and your workplace. Build in rest. When you do, you’ll see you actually have more energy and time than you expected !!

Paperback Writer !!

Six years ago I had a blog post with this same title because I was sharing the news that I had written a book about HR called HR on Purpose !! I was not sure what would happen by taking the time to put down my thoughts about the profession I love. The goal back then was to put something out in the industry that ran against the grain of what had been the tenor of people trying to tear down HR. It has been very successful and I’ve heard from people all over the globe who’ve read it. It was humbling, to say the least.

I was glad to see that a message of positivity and encouragement had made its way out to try to stem the negativity that seemed so prevalent. I felt I had accomplished what I had intended and I’d be done with the book business. Three years passed by and my publisher dropped me an email and asked – “Do you think you have another book in you?” I hadn’t given it much thought, but I was wondering if I could do it again. In the first book, I wanted to rally my peers to own who we are and what we do. Be proud of being an HR practitioner. I felt led to lay out an approach to show how HR people can be leaders in what we do. I pulled out my laptop and started writing to see what would happen. A month and a half later, I had put together book number two – HR Rising !! It felt good to keep writing.

When my second book was to be published, the world shut down. We all had far more important things to focus on. I was pleased to see how the world pulled together for a time in order to survive. I also loved how organizations finally woke up to the reality that people are essential. It’s a shame we needed a global crisis for this to be known. HR professionals were asked to step up and lead . . . and they did. HR showed it should be put into a leadership role.

As we continued to try to navigate our way through the pandemic, more and more uncertainty hit everyone like never-ending waves constantly crashing against a beach. I was touched by the wonderful folks I work with who made a giant poster of my second book and they all signed it. To be acknowledged and recognized in this way was so touching. It hangs in my office to this day. Two books. I was good with this.

We had a major leadership shift change at work occur at the end of 2020 which was completely unexpected. My boss, our COO, passed away from a heart attack. He had been with the company for only 47 years. We went through a full reset and my role changed considerably. As we worked our way through new methods and approaches, I was in several meetings where I shared many of the people-centric ideas I had written about more openly. I also threw out new ideas because they seemed to fit.

During one of these meetings, Michael, our CEO, quipped, “Is this going to be in your next book?” I was stunned. He was serious. I asked just to double-check and he really wanted me to do it.

So, six years after attempting to capture my thoughts about HR, I have written book number three – HR Unleashed !! The thought behind this book is to encourage HR not to retreat to the practices of how we had been doing HR before the pandemic. We need to move forward and drive organizations to be intentionally people first. The book is filled with stories and examples of how you can make this happen. I believe companies that make this come to life will remain relevant. It’s the key for HR to stay ahead of the future.

This book was published at the SHRM Annual Conference just as my prior two books were. I’m floored by the response so far and grateful for the opportunity to get another dose of positivity to elevate HR out into the world. I’ve enjoyed being a paperback writer. We’ll see where things go from here . . .

Mr. Lusk

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.

Is vs. Has

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.

This HAS to occur !!

Mending Fences

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.

Melanie and me mending the fence.

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.

Sound familiar?

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.

Fix You

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.

Be there for others. It’s who we are as humans.

Here’s the song from Coldplay . . .

I Know A Guy . . .

This past weekend I took a look outside in my yard and saw various tufts of grass starting to grow a bit more than in other areas. The flowers in our beds had begun breaking through the soil and mulch. You could see that Spring was trying its best to squelch the unending Winter, which was encouraging. It also meant that the next season of working in the yard was inching ever closer.

I’ve mentioned several times before that working in the yard brings me joy. It’s increasingly exhausting the older I get, but I wouldn’t trade one moment of that exhaustion. I love being outside, taking in the sun, getting my hands dirty, and especially making the looping walk of mowing the grass. Of course, that means I need to make sure my sturdy lawn mower is ready to go. I consider myself somewhat handy, but not when it comes to mechanical things with motors.

So, I folded the seats down in my Chevy Equinox, laid down a blue tarp, and hoisted my mower up into the car for its annual check-up. Years ago there was a large store that sold and repaired mowers in my town. I’m not sure why it went out of business, but one day it was just gone. I was at a loss for what to do now to get my mower maintenance done. One of my dear friends Bob told me that another one of our friends, Dave, “knew a guy.” I was geeked because I needed a new place to go. I called Dave and asked about this new option. He told me the name and location of this new haven and I went to check it out.

When you go to Jericho Mower Services, you find yourself heading through neighborhoods and over into an area of small industrial shops nestled into a series of cul de sacs. When you enter the minuscule lobby, you smell oil, gas and hear the clang of wrenches working on the mowers lined up in the back of the shop. It’s magnificent !! The owner is the person who warmly greets you with, “What’s up brother?” and you’re set to go. The team at Jericho always takes care of your equipment and they give you a detailed explanation of what they did or what’s needed.

I dropped off my Toro self-propelling unit at Jericho this Saturday and was told it would be about three weeks until it was ready. The owner was warm as ever and I knew I was in good hands. Talented hands. I was comfortable because someone who had a skill set I lacked was not only able to meet my needs but exceed them !!

What we forget in the workplace today is that there are so many talented specialists who are “go-to” resources when a fix is needed. Often they are overlooked until the time we need to contact them for help. We all “know a person” who we can rely on to provide laser-focused assistance. They may be a tradesperson, an IT professional, a mechanic or maintenance person, or a specialist in a department who excels in having a narrow focus.

I’d love to see us change the narrative and perspective on this. We all need people who possess various talents and we should value who they are and what they do. There is no hierarchy of importance that needs to be followed. Each person in an organization or who provides support for an organization from a third-party effort has immeasurable value !!

Be thankful that you “know a guy” when it’s needed. Just understand these wonderful people are essential and needed all the time and not just in a pinch. I can’t wait to get my mower back and get the chance to see the Jericho owner another time to thank him for all he does for me and others. Bring on Spring !!

The Avoidance Box

I have a fantastic men’s group !! We meet weekly and I’m sure to get many takeaways from our time together. This week, my dear friend Larry gave me a true nugget.

We were talking about behavior and things that make us uncomfortable when he said, “Oh when that happens I put it in the avoidance box.” I stopped all of the other conversations going on around the table. “What? What is an avoidance box?” I asked.

“You know. It’s the place you use when you’d rather avoid something instead of facing it. We all have one,” he replied.

I told him, “I’m keeping that one !!” – and here we are. His phrase made me pause and reflect wondering if I had, or used, an avoidance box. The more I thought about it, I do. I’m also positive that this storage place is used by everyone around me. Please note, I don’t believe this is a “right or wrong” situation. We all avoid things. We may avoid interactions, situations, or circumstances for safety. We assess the potential risks and then decide whether to jump in or let it pass.

There are also people we avoid. This avoidance is more challenging for me to accept because I see every person as someone to learn from. We know people avoid each other because we see it at work, in families, and in social interactions. There are myriad reasons why we justify steering clear of others. It’s a shame but it’s also a reality.

Many people go through the majority of their day practicing tactical avoidance. They limit interactions with others because there’s an innate assumption that each conversation will involve something negative. It may mean more work. It may be the feeling that they won’t truly listen or consider your idea/feedback. You may have also had a time in the past when an interaction didn’t go well with that person so you assume it will happen again.

Add to all of these voices of doubt the unpredictability of the emotions of the people involved. You may be having a great day when someone else isn’t. Or, the opposite may be true. We keep trying to fool ourselves that emotions aren’t present when we talk to others because we’re focusing on the task in front of us. Emotions lead. Always. We can’t turn them off.

So, is an avoidance box a great tool? It depends.

There may be a time for you to step aside and address something in the future. It may help emotions balance or reduce potential risk. There’s value in buying time. If this is the case, the avoidance box should be used on rare occasions instead of it being a primary practice.

There is far more value in having encounters and interactions with people than avoiding them. I’d venture to say that 90% of those occurrences are productive and positive. The negative voices are rarely right. Sure, there’s that 10% of people who will be difficult regardless of the situation. That’s a small percentage we should keep in its place and step into that 90% which should go well.

This week look into the closet and see how full your avoidance box is. See if it needs to be emptied a bit and pull out those items you should tackle. You don’t have to empty it completely, but see what you can do to clear it out a bit. You’ll be glad you did !!