What do #sequoia #trees have to do with

What do #sequoia #trees have to do with #leadership? http://ow.ly/yHUX4

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Do you read Graceful Leadership via RSS?

If you subscribe to Graceful Leadership via RSS, this message is for you!

As you likely know, I’m integrating my blog and website, which means I’m moving from WordPress.com (where we’re at now) to WordPress.org. Moving forward, anyone who has “followed” this blog via the RSS feed will need to subscribe in order to get the posts emailed to you. If you come back here, you’ll be redirected to the latest posts, but you won’t be on the automatic distribution as you are now.

It just takes a second to sign up — Grace and I would love to have you stay onboard! You’ll need to do it in the next few days before we change the permanent redirect for the url. After that, you can always find us www.PeopleSenseConsulting.com!

Email subscribers will receive an email later today with the latest post — be on the lookout!

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Looks are important; but the components underneath are critical

Grace found her treasured deer bone from under the snow and enjoyed a bite or two before I called her back to the warmth of the house. She was in no hurry.

This winter has been mild with very little snow. Yesterday and today we’re seeing a typical New England storm with lots of the white, fluffy flakes falling. It’s sticking everywhere and bringing a whole new look to the landscape.

That seems appropriate as I’m in the final stages of creating a whole new look to my website and blog. Regular readers will know that I’ve mentioned it recently and I promise you will see it soon.

But this new snow falling on our familiar ground gives me the opportunity to reflect on how things look. I am reminded that a look is just that — a look.

There are a few popular clichés that come to mind: “It’s all in the packaging.” And “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” There is certainly a lot to be said for making something inviting, interesting, and engaging. But no matter how much outward beauty exists, the substance must come through.

It would be like creating a gorgeous hospital with comfy waiting rooms and waterfalls in the lobby, yet doesn’t meet the needs of a patient for seamless movement in his own room. Or a service organization that spends all their efforts on promoting their services but doesn’t listen to what their customer wants nor deliver what they have promised. Or the manager who makes an incorrect assumption that an employee is lazy because they arrived late to work, but in fact was struggling to take care of a sick child. We have to look deep to understand the whole picture.

This is Sammy, who stayed overnight with us, and blends right in with the white fluffy snow.

Our friend’s dog, Sammy, came for an overnight visit yesterday and he brings his snow-white curly look to our household. There is no contrast between his fluffy hair and the outside background; it’s hard to even see him out there. You could miss him if you looked quickly but he doesn’t realize that. And Grace is going about doing what she always does: scavenging for food, no matter what she has to go through to find it. Neither one really cares about how something looks, they get what they need without any judgment.

I’ve invested lots of my time, energy, and resources to bring an integrated look and feel to my website and blog. And I’m extremely glad I did. I think it’s important, but I am grounded knowing that what is underneath the updated look is what matters. My goal is that you can learn more about who I am, what I do, and how dedicated I am to help people find constructive and enjoyable workplace environments. And I hope you think it looks good, too!

Because of my travel schedule next week and the nitty-gritty details of changing over the hosting and email accounts, be on the lookout for my next post to come out the week after next. That’s when you’ll see the new look! Until then, the final touches will occur and I’ve allocated some spare time to troubleshoot if needed after the changeover.

For now, enjoy the sameness of your environment. Appreciate the value of what’s underneath. Taking note of what’s around us is important. Making it beautiful has its place. Ensuring that it meets the needs of those it serves is most critical.

Posted in Communicating | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Know what’s behind you, but keep your focus on what’s ahead

We can all be creatures of habit. It's easy to get stuck in a particular way of thinking about a person or situation. Yet when we can look ahead instead of behind, we can find new answers, new solutions.

Last Friday, I met with a staff of a small organization to review assessment results. It was a fun and rewarding time for me, because everyone was genuinely interested in learning more about themselves and each other. They were filled with probing questions that reflected their interest in looking ahead.

They understood that there were no “right” or “wrong” results, and that the reports indicated a person’s natural style and tendency. In fact, differences can be a huge advantage on a team; the important point is to have an awareness of a particular style and know how it may influence an interaction or task on a project.

About half of this team of 20 had worked together for many years. The others have joined the company more recently, a couple of them within the last few weeks. I respected the openness of this team to move past the known dynamics of the team members who have worked together for a long time. Rather than getting mired in how they “knew” someone would react to something, they eagerly explored the motivation of the reaction that they had previously experienced. They moved away from judging that reaction as “wrong” but explored how it could be useful to think about something differently.

Yesterday when Grace and I went on a walk, she readily jumped on top of this rock. Her first instinct was to look behind (shown in the picture above), but then she turned to look ahead. I guess we all have that tendency when facing a new hurdle. But if Grace can look ahead, I know you can, too!

It’s very easy to get frustrated with someone if that person has annoyed you in the past. Yet if we enter a new conversation with that same person, bringing with us a willingness to see another way, we will likely find there is value in the other person’s approach.

Even if you don’t change the process or the decision involved, it will absolutely help you have greater respect for the other opinion when you realize that the person has genuine intentions for the same things you want.

The way you get there may be different and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

Posted in Communicating, Leadership | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

You won’t get the best of someone when they are backed into a corner

Just a few weeks ago the warming temperatures began rapid melting and the loud noises from the shifting ice scared Grace. You can see the tail between her legs, legs braced and body down, ready to flee. Whether the threat is real or perceived, we aren't at a place mentally where we can make our best decisions. We're too busy trying to find a place of safety. If you're putting someone else (consciously or unconsciously) in a corner, it won't work to anyone's advantage.

When Grace thinks I’m upset with her, her tail goes between her back legs. She cowers lower to the ground. Her ears retreat and she has this guilty, shameful look.

I imagine my own signals of distress are not that obvious. Others might see my face begin to blush but they can’t see my heart about to jump outside of my body because of how hard and loud it is beating.

It’s important that we recognize those signals, for ourselves, but also for others.

This week I had occasion to witness several interactions where one person in the room was feeling threatened by another person. It wasn’t a fist fight or anything dramatic, in fact, fairly subtle signs surfaced, but it was there. I could tell that the person was feeling less than supported by the conversation. It’s not a great feeling for whoever is on the receiving end.

The individual dishing out the language is feeling better for having voiced their opinion and I’m all in favor of making sure you share all feedback — whether good, bad, or indifferent.

Yet the manner in which it is done is so critical for the outcomes. You shouldn’t sugar coat feedback, nor should you say something positive if it’s not accurate. But you need to be respectful, keeping in mind that the other person has their own perspective, which has validity and should be acknowledged and explored.

When a person feels backed into a corner, it’s hard to come out gracefully. One way is to cower, like Grace tends to do, and just give in. But no one wins because the real issues have not been addressed.

Long-lasting solutions will only happen when the parties begin to think about the problem creatively, and with curiosity, as opposed to throwing out self-motivated fixes. Do whatever you can to have all the parties participate in the resolution.

When you’re barking loud enough to put someone in a corner, think about ways to back off to allow room for the discussion.

Posted in Communicating, Leadership | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

How to make decisions that you can live with

This isn't exactly what Grace ate on Tuesday, but it comes from the same source. The woods nearby offer a variety of interesting things, including bones from dead animals, this one likely a deer. Grace was very proud of her find and carried this one home recently. Perhaps her scavenger instinct comes from her days on the streets of Puerto Rico.

Grace ate something she shouldn’t have eaten. That happened mid-day Tuesday when we went on a short walk close to our house.

She was off-leash and far enough away from me that I could see her gnawing on something that looked like a small bone, but not near enough for me to clearly identify it or remove it. As I got closer, she knew her enjoyment of her tasty morsel was short-lived, so she swallowed it.

I didn’t notice anything unusual until later that afternoon when she started to be lethargic and then had no interest in her dinner. She was walking awkwardly and had trouble getting up the stairs when we went to bed that night. My husband and I both had long days scheduled for the next day, Wednesday, and upon our return that night, we didn’t think she had moved from her bed all day, not even to greet Pete as he entered. She had eaten nothing and shown no interest in food.

That night, she started whining, and I started to get increasingly worried. I googled “blockage in dogs” and as I read the summaries, all I could see were the words “serious,” “life-threatening,” and “death.”

So I called the closest emergency vet care clinic in our area, and in reviewing all her symptoms, I felt somewhat better. Shortly after the call ended, around 9:30 at night, I took Grace for a walk and she did her business, enough to know it was not a complete blockage. Now I had another positive sign, giving me enough comfort that I felt I could get some sleep without being a total wreck, worrying about all the possible horrible outcomes.

The next morning she eagerly ate her breakfast and did what I wanted her to do on her bathroom walk. Things were looking up. While we still don’t feel like she is 100% herself yet, the signs are moving in the right direction. The crisis has passed.

Throughout the last few days, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to second guess my actions. If I hadn’t had her off-leash, this wouldn’t have happened, for starters. If she had been trained to drop something from her mouth upon my command, that would have eliminated the problem, too.

But the big question I had for myself: should I have driven her to the emergency clinic? If something had happened during the night, could I live with myself for not taking her to be checked?

As this ran back and forth through my mind, I landed on the side of satisfaction that I had made the right choice. Given the information I had in total, I felt the risks were low enough to wait until the morning for any next step. Turns out that worked out well, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

The bottom line is that no matter what others suggest or recommend, you have to make decisions that you aren’t going to regret. When you put a stake in the ground, you need to be able to look back and know that you did what you thought was best, even if the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.

The woman from the clinic forewarned me that she couldn’t guarantee Grace would be fine, even though the symptoms didn’t indicate a grave situation. And I knew that even if I took Grace in, there was always the possibility that it wouldn’t turn out well. It’s not the guarantee of the outcome we should weigh the quality of our decisions on, but rather by how we arrived at our choice.

I believe that once we trust our process, we can trust our decisions. Do we understand the situation fully? Do we have all the information from all pertinent perspectives? Have we reached out for input from those we respect? Have we received advice from experts in the field?

Once we weigh those factors, then we can choose the option that we feel is best, which may be different from what another person would choose. And it might be different the next time we make the same type of decision for ourselves.

Being clear on how and why you make your decision is the important thing.

Posted in Leading | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Spread the love on Valentine’s Day

Dodger took the initiative to give Grace a kiss, despite the normal cold reception that he usually receives for his efforts to get close. We can't control the reaction of others when we reach out to them, but it shouldn't stop us from doing so.

Today, of course, is Valentine’s Day. It’s an occasion that encourages us to devote time to those closest to us — and to tell them that we care.

Dogs and cats probably don’t have today on their social calendar. Nor do co-workers. We think of it as a romantic celebration.

But why not expand our thinking and bend the parameters a bit? What would be the harm in offering that kind, caring, focused attention to everyone? Not just to those we like, but even to those that may get the hairs on the back of our neck standing up from time to time.

You may recall that Grace has a fierce jealousy of her canine brothers. Yet Dodger remains undeterred in his efforts to be inquisitive and eager to be around her. This weekend, I caught this exchange, where once again, Dodger edged his body close to Grace, sniffing, being curious and — could it be — even affectionate?

Perhaps Grace caught the nuance of it, too, as there was no curling of the upper lip, or low rumbling to warn him off, as is often the case. Grace allowed the two to touch. And later that same day, while the two vied for the attention of my husband for the umpteenth time that day, Grace leaned down and licked Dodger’s ears. I had never seen that before. Could it be that one good gesture beget another?

Today, like any day, is as good a day as any, to notice the good things about everyone around you. And to show that appreciation in whatever way is comfortable for you.

Spread the love today on Valentine’s Day. At home and at work. You may find that it comes back to you, too.

Posted in Communicating, Leadership | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Does a pedigree matter?

Grace and Raegan enjoyed another walk together this past Sunday. Raegan is a purebred silver lab and now we know Grace has a lot of chihuahua in her. They both love normal dog things, like carrying a stick, climbing over rocks, and exploring the smells in the woods. However, their different pedigrees make their training and learning systems unique.

When you’re looking for the perfect job candidate, do you take into account the person’s background or societal standing? Perhaps you require a college degree? Or a degree in a certain discipline? Or maybe you look for the candidate to have work experience that comes from a particular type or size of company? In short, does the pedigree of the candidate matter?

I think it helps you know what you have, but it doesn’t determine what the person is capable of achieving.

Yes, some schools are better than others. And certain work experiences yield greater opportunities for learning. The skills we’ve gained in the past will impact what we can do in the present and future.

But that doesn’t exclude the possibility that anyone who lacks a particular skill will necessarily fail.

Take Grace as an example. I know — she’s a dog and no matter how sensational I think she is, she won’t be filling out any job applications anytime soon. However, she offers us yet another important lesson.

For Christmas, one of the gifts from my husband was a DNA test for Grace. I thought this was a brilliant idea, not because I cared about her blood lines (I did adopt a street dog, after all). But because I’ve always been curious about who she really is, so to speak.

People ask us all the time, “What breed is she?” My response is, “A mutt.” I like mutts. I think they are interesting and they aren’t usually plagued with many of the breed-specific quirks and health issues.

I add to my response that I think she has whippet in her, because she’s so lean, agile, fast — things that seem like a whippet to me. Other people have said they think she might have some Italian greyhound, terrier, or dachshund in her. But of course, we didn’t know. These were guesses, based on our impressions and limited knowledge about each of these breeds.

With my DNA swab kit in hand, I was filled with curiosity about what we would find out. We fully expected to receive a report with “inconclusive results” as we were certain she had untold number of breeds that had been mixing it up on the streets of Puerto Rico.

Imagine our surprise when we found out that 50% of her ancestry was 100% chihuahua! “Is that the Taco Bell dog?” I asked my husband. (Yes.)

When I looked at the chart, which included a small graphic representation of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, I’ve never seen so many little chihuahuas in one place! It was comical to me; here I was thinking she had a deep mix of breeds in her; instead I began to speculate that if her one chihuahua parent had hooked up with another chihuahua, Grace would be a purebred!

Her other side was 50% dachshund and 50% mixed breed. Of that “mixed breed” portion, there were five options, ranked with probability of each: Golden Retriever (14.63%), Tibetan Spaniel (4.61%), Weimaraner (4.05%), Shetland Sheepdog (3.32%), and Labrador Retriever (3.12%).

They included descriptive lists of traits for the breeds and chihuahuas and dachshunds shared two in common. Interestingly, they couldn’t describe her any more accurately:
• Alert, active, and often playful.
• May be suspicious or fearful of strangers.

Seeing this, I realized that it’s possible that some of her ongoing fear issues are related to her genes versus her start on the streets. In addition, chihuahuas respond well to reward-based training using treats (totally true for Grace) and the dachshund has a hunting background and therefore prone to barking (yup).

Does any of this matter?

Whether Grace is half-chihuahua or not, it doesn’t preclude her from doing things that any normal dog would do, like taking up more than her share of the sofa or chasing the cats away from her bone.

But knowing more of who she is and what her experiences have been help us develop a higher level of success in the things we work with her on. It doesn’t mean she can’t accomplish success in things we ask her to do. Yet we have to keep in mind her needs if we want results. That’s an excellent thing to keep in mind when managing people, too.

So whether you are hiring or being a mentor to someone in their career, look for potential, rather than limitations.

Posted in Interviewing, Leadership, Management | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Get the right people together and good things happen

Grace isn't the type of dog I can take every place I go, even if I wanted to. There are often times when she is much better off left at home, to relax in her comfy bed. It's important to bring the right people together when you want the most effective outcomes.

In the ten years since starting my business, I did something last Friday that I have never done before.

I invited a variety of clients to come together and talk with each other about their experiences using the Profiles assessment tools.

The way I looked at it, those people “in the trenches,” doing the work, could offer the best ideas to share with others. I have lots of suggestions and examples that I give my clients, but I had an instinct that this type of collaborative discussion would have more impact.

The dynamics at the meeting confirmed that impression. Despite icy road conditions that morning, we enjoyed 100% attendance. After sharing ideas for almost two hours, I asked if they wanted a coffee break, but heads shook no and we carried on. At noon when we ended, everyone stayed to enjoy lunch together for more sharing of ideas.

Feedback after the session voiced appreciation for how open everyone had been. Each of the clients came into the meeting with varying levels of experience, from veterans who I have worked with for about eight years, to others who have started within the last year. Yet, everyone walked away thinking about something in a new, different way.

My goal was to discover ways for these clients to get more out of their investment. Each of them has a deep desire for a quality workplace environment and an exceptional experience for their customers. With that commitment to employees and customers, I wanted to help them accomplish those objectives.

These companies have witnessed the value of the assessments and we have significant success stories already under our belt. But why stop there? Why not forge into new territory and see if we can do more with what is already around us?

I learned from this experience, too. As I was planning it, I worried if everyone would find value. I worried if they would bring up problems I wouldn’t have the answer to. I worried whether the organizations would be so different that the ideas wouldn’t be useful. But I shouldn’t have worried at all.

I brought talented people together who wanted to learn. When that happens, the answers will come.

Meanwhile, Grace was enjoying a lazy morning at home. She was with us in spirit, knowing the right people were at the right place.

You don’t have to include everyone on your team for every meeting. But you should make a conscious effort to bring those together that have a common goal, even when things are going just fine. Everyone benefits when that happens.

Posted in Communication, Leadership, Management | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Clear communication becomes dog’s play

Grace enjoyed some moments with our friends' dog, Raegan, when we all went on a walk this weekend.

It’s really fun to watch two animals play together. They seem to have a rhythm, knowing what to do and when to do it. If one does something the other doesn’t like, it’s communicated clearly, in a way that expresses their desire, without judgment. No grudges held or lingering resentment, no baggage left to deal with on a subsequent encounter.

The two had lots of energy chasing each other.

On Sunday, we had the opportunity to take Raegan, our friends’ dog, on our weekend walk. Grace normally runs a lot on our walks, up and back, up and back again, and all around us on the trail. But with another dog around, there is even more energy abounding. It is interesting to watch.

Raegan is a one-year-old silver lab. She’s sweet, strong, and like most labs, she loves the water. I was nervous when we neared a small reservoir and she ventured out on the ice. We called her back. She came. Whew, thank you, Raegan. Can’t tell you how much I did not want to find out how cold that water was.

They raced side by side down the trail and even though Raegan is larger and younger, Grace was sure to show us all that she was still in the game.

I know that all dogs don’t get along. But I do think they have a way of communicating that is very clear, especially when humans aren’t around to misinterpret. Their messages may be subtle, but they are effective. Animals are more inclined to watch for nuances and signals that we humans have to be hit over the head before we see it or hear it.

My last post was about being ignored. And as was noted in the comments from that post, matters get worse when we don’t address them. Grace and Raegan weren’t always side by side, but they never ignored each other either. It seemed they always knew what the other one was doing. They had a blast being together on their walk. But it didn’t mean they always agreed on how to play or what to do next.

Raegan found her puddles to wade through. Grace jumped over the tree limbs, just like we’ve done in agility. Sometimes they ran together in circles, one instigating the other to run faster or further. And sometimes Grace said, “Enough!!” with her front paws and low growl. Raegan understood and abided.

When I looked back on the pictures from the day, it seemed they were more in sync than I initially thought they were.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone on the team understood their own personal style and needs, along with the needs of others — and then were able to communicate those things clearly and with respect for all?

Watching two dogs play can teach us a lot.

Posted in Feedback, Leadership, Management, Teams, Teamwork | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments