Share my storyShould I share my story? It’s a question I get asked often. It’s a question I used to ask myself. I was asked the question again a couple of weeks ago. I was on a Zoom coffee call when the question came, almost out of leftfield. Should I share my story? This time the question caught me a bit off guard. I’m afraid my momentary confusion caused me to hesitate, it might have even caused me to stammer a bit. I’m afraid it might have caused my answer to seem less confident, less emphatic than I intended. 

I can assure you that was not the case. I just was not expecting the conversation to turn in the direction it did. You see, this was the first time I had met this person. Typically, I get asked that question by people whose story I already know (at least somewhat). This being the first time we had met, it threw me off…at least momentarily. Let me answer now, with all the confidence and as emphatically as possible…”YES, YOU SHOULD SHARE YOUR STORY”. Your story is who you are, you should own your story! This was one of the most impactful recommendations I have ever received, and I think it can have as great an impact on you and your career as it did for me. 

This person’s story was of a battle with alcoholism. They are recovering, but they are an alcoholic. You may be asking why on earth would someone share that with someone they had just met. Well, because it is a story of strength and courage. It is a story of vulnerability. Something in our conversation must have let them know it was a “safe zone” to tell the story and then ask the question. Little did they know the impact they would have on me because they shared. I was honored they felt they could share. They had no way of knowing the number of people in my life who battle the same affliction. 

Why should you tell your story? Because sharing our stories creates an immediate connection. There is something about being vulnerable. There is something in creating trust between people. It’s funny how in sharing our stories and being vulnerable what we are really sharing is our strength. The connection created is real. The connection created is deep. 

When I asked permission to share this story, they responded with “I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to feel vulnerable and safe enough to pose the question and be affirmed by someone else in a leadership role. My strength comes from my vulnerability and ability to connect with others on a deeper level. My alcoholism no longer defines me because I am no longer ashamed.” Powerful. The connection works both ways. 

It was not more than a week later when I was confronted with the power of sharing one’s story again. This time it was with at a meeting of the Indy CIO Network. We had a guest facilitator, Paul Ashley of FirstPerson Advisors, we were to discuss mental wellbeing during a pandemic. Before the meeting, Paul shared his story with the group. Paul’s story is one of battling depression. His vulnerability connected with the group which led to a great discussion. Powerful. Several members shared their own stories. Based on the follow-up conversations, I know it has led to deeper connections between our members. 

My point isn’t that your story has to include battling alcoholism, or depression, or cancer. It doesn’t have to include anything that dramatic. My point is your story is important. It is what makes you who are. Sharing it can create connection. Sharing it can show you care about other’s stories.  Sharing it can help you to lead. 

Post a comment, send an email, give me a call! I want to hear your stories! 

#stress #How are youHow are you? Don’t answer “I’m fine”. I’m being serious. How are you? You’ve been leading through some incredibly chaotic times! You’ve been taking care of your staff. You’ve been taking care of your family. You’ve been taking care of your friends. When was the last time you took a moment to check in on you? 

The first six months of 2020 have been a lot. We’ve now been in some form of physical distancing, stay-at-home orders, and business restrictions for almost four months. We’ve taken part in countless virtual meetings, seeing others only on our computer monitors. Many have not seen family or friends for an extended time. 

About six weeks ago, our country was rocked by the death of George Floyd. The rage of centuries of oppression and racism erupted in cities from coast to coast. Voices have been, and continue to be, raised. Companies have stepped up to meet the challenge to listen and learn. Perhaps your company is one. 

Our businesses are facing unprecedented challenges. Leaders are being asked to make sense of it all. We are confronted by issues on all fronts. What’s a leader to do? 

Pause. Yes, pause. Take a moment. Think about you. How are you feeling? What is your body telling you? 

Please, pause. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you feeling irritable? Anxious? Down?
  • Have you lost some of your motivation? 
  • Are you unable to focus? 
  • Do you have difficulty sleeping?
  • Do you have muscle tension or new aches or pains?
  • Are you unable to have fun? 

If you answered yes to one or more of these, chances are you are under stress. Depending on your answers, you may be under severe stress. 

I know, I hear you. Stress is nothing new. You’re always under stress. Leadership comes with stress. What’s important is you are powering through. You are checking on your team. You are driving your business forward through the challenges. If you consider yourself a servant leader you are justifying the stress by saying your job is to take care of those around you. 

I’m urging you to pause. Get in touch with what you are feeling and why. Rest. Reflect. 

There are five essential elements to counteract adversity and reduce the impacts of stress on our wellbeing. 

Safety – One of our basic needs is to feel safe. If your safety is being challenged are there things you can do to move yourself to a greater feeling of safety? 

Calm – If you are feeling tense or anxious can you calm yourself? Are you able to help yourself feel more relaxed? 

Connection – Do you feel a connection with others? Can you talk to your spouse or significant other? Can you phone a friend? 

Resilience – Do you have a feeling that you can get through these challenges because you have faced challenges before? 

Optimism – Do you have a sense of optimism or hope for the future? 

So. Let me ask you again. How are you feeling? Do you need one or more of the essential elements? Do you know where to get them? Take time to pause, take time to rest, take time to reflect. Your followers need you in your best possible condition to guide them through the next 90 days and beyond. 

Let me know how you are doing. Post a comment or send me a note at jeff.ton@tonenterprisellc.com.

#AmplifyYourLeadership #BlackLivesMatterLast week’s Leadership Thought “I Have No Words” sparked a lot of email, texts and comments. Many of you, like me, are struggling to find the words, to know how to react to the unrest around us, and to know what actions to take. Many of the messages contained an explicit or implicit question: But, what about the violence and the looting? 

Let me respond, first by saying, I am a self-proclaimed pacifist. I abhor violence and destruction of any kind. I wish we all could just get along (you know, hold hands and sing “Kumbaya”). I wish that for the neighbors in a dispute, our political parties, the countries of the world, and certainly the races of the world. Like John Lennon I “Imagine all the people living life in peace”. 

However, I am also a realist. There are wars (and, yes, I wholeheartedly support our troops, I come from a long line of those who have served our country), there is conflict, and yes, there are riots, violence and looting. History is filled with examples of rioting and looting going back thousands of years. 

Don’t believe me? Google “riots throughout history”. There are so many of them, they had to divide them up by century. There were riots in Rome when Julius Caesar was assassinated.There were riots in Canada after a loss in the Stanley Cup. There were riots in the U.S. over a tax on…whiskey. 

The Boston Massacre occurred because colonists were frustrated with the presence of British Soldiers in their neighborhoods and threw snowballs at Soldiers. The soldiers responded and killed five colonists. 

The Boston Tea Party was a result of growing resentment between the colonies and British taxation. 342 chests of tea were dumped into Boston Harbor. It started a revolution. 

As my wife and I watched Ken Burns’ Civil War this week, I was reminded of the riots that took place in the North in response to the draft of Union soldiers. 

As I researched this post, I learned of “Red Summer”, a series of riots and looting in over three dozen cities that took place 100 years ago at the end of World War I. Whites were fearful the black soldiers returning from the war would take their already scarce jobs. (Interesting that was at the same time in history as the Spanish Flu pandemic…history repeats?) 

Riots and looting have occurred because of political differences, because of hatred of another people, because of team affiliations (football, soccer, basketball, hockey), and yes, because of race. Sometimes, the oppressed have rioted, and sometimes the aggressors have rioted. 

I have to ask the question, what would have happened if the armed protesters who protested in state houses recently against “stay-at-home” orders were met with aggression instead of silence? 

Would I ever feel anger or hopelessness, or feel passionately enough about a cause to resort to violence? I’d like to say “no”, but what I can say is “never say never”. 

I, for one, have felt anger. However, I can’t imagine what it feels like to be oppressed. Oppressed for hundreds or even thousands of years. I have felt hopelessness. However, I can’t imagine the hopelessness of generation after generation who are suffering and yet, are unheard. 

What I can do is listen with empathy and compassion to the voices of generations. 

#AmplifyYourVoiceI have no words. Perhaps a funny thing to say, coming from a writer. I have no words…I don’t know what to say. Even now I struggle to find the words.

Our nation, in the midst of perhaps the biggest crisis in the last 100 years, certainly in the last 50, has exploded. When news of George Floyd’s murder came across my television, just weeks after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I did what I always do. I showed my support, first by liking others’ posts on Facebook, then by sharing a post. I’ve done it for years…

The murderous attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris? Changed my profile picture to “Je suis Charlie” in support. 

The confrontation at Standing Rock that escalated into violence? Joined others who checked-in at Standing Rock to show support. 

I could list dozens of others. Doing my part to show support. But cautiously. Wouldn’t want to draw furor. Wouldn’t want to upset my “friends”. Afterall I have a business to run and many of those “friends” are my readers. 

Doing my part. Cautiously. Rarely, if ever, on LinkedIn. That’s for business. Can’t get personal, can’t get political, can’t take a stand. Would not want to alienate anyone, they might buy my books, they might hire me for a keynote, they might…

This time was no different. Until it wasn’t. 

I shared a “Black Lives Matter” gif on Facebook. A bit later a “friend” commented “All Lives Matter”. I did not know what to say in response. I use quotes around “friend” because I haven’t seen this person in 50 years and just recently reconnected on Facebook. I really didn’t know him. I was at a loss for words. On one level, yes, all lives matter. But that was not the point. The point is right now an entire race of people are hurting. Saying “all lives matter” diminishes their pain. I was frozen. 

And then, my son spoke up and commented on the post. A discussion of sorts started, then someone else chimed in. His tone was decidedly sharper. This back and forth went on for a couple of days…and I remained silent. 

Over the last week I have watched my son find his voice…on Facebook, and yes, on LinkedIn. I have seen countless others raise their voices. What I have seen, what I have heard, tells me there ARE words. I was just stuck waiting for the RIGHT words. 

As leaders, we have to lead…even when we don’t know the RIGHT words. 

To those of you who were like me…waiting. STOP. Add your voice to the conversation! 

To my friends of Color. I am sorry. I have no concept of what it is like to walk in your shoes. I know you are hurting. I know you are afraid. I know you are angry. I want to learn. I am committed to learning, so that I might lend my voice and my support to make this a world that recognizes all people have been created equal! 

I will speak by listening! I WILL find my voice. I WILL listen. 

 

Other resources to read:

Masking language and “keeping it professional”

Leadership Reflections on George Floyd and the Minneapolis Riots

I am one person. What can I do? 

TIME for Kids Age-Appropriate Resources

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” We don’t, but we can.

Women & Hi Tech’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in light of the Recent Events in Our City and Nation

culture #Amplify InsightsIs Culture tied to place or space? 

It’s a question that I have asked myself many times over the last two months. The question was sparked during a virtual roundtable with a group of business leaders. Several of them expressed anxiously they could not wait to get back into the office, they couldn’t wait to get their staff back into the office. Why? Not because they missed everyone (though they did express that they did miss everyone), but, rather because their culture demanded it. Their culture was built on open collaboration, the buzz of activity, close interaction among team members. 

It got me thinking…Is culture tied to place or space? 

It’s been said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (actually, Peter Drucker is the one that said it). Without a doubt, your corporate culture can have a dramatic impact on the success or failure of your strategy and therefore your company. But what IS culture? 

There are about as many definitions of company culture as there are people in the workplace. The definition I like the best is by Susan M. Heathfield, in her post: Culture: Your Environment for People at Work

“In many ways, culture is like personality. In a person, the personality is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, interests, experiences, upbringing, and habits that create a person’s behavior.

Culture is made up of such traits shared by a group of people. Culture is the behavior that results when a group arrives at a set of generally unspoken and unwritten rules for working together.”

So, is culture tied to place or space? I believe if culture relies on all of your employees being in the same place and sharing the same place, you are doing it wrong. Can place and space impact company culture, absolutely! A few years ago, as a new CIO the first thing I did was replace all the workspaces for the IT team. It made a world of difference on the mental health of the team. Just recently, I was with a company who moved into brand new office space. I can tell you, it made a huge impact on my own mental health, outlook, and desire to be there. So, yes, place and space CAN influence culture, but it can’t (or shouldn’t) define culture. 

That mentality creates a very exclusive mindset, even at a time when we are all trying to be inclusive. If you can’t be in the workplace, you can’t be in the culture. What of team members who can’t be in the office? What of team members who are afraid to be in the office? What of geographically dispersed staff? How do they become a part of the culture? Even companies who have more than one office..the cultures are going to be different, the “vibe” is going to be different…and that is OK. 

So, how do we create and maintain a company culture that extends beyond the walls of our office? 

Intentionality – Be intentional about including remote employees. This has been easier with everyone being remote, but as we return to the office, be intentional to include those who aren’t there. How many times have you been on a conference call, and forgot to tell those on the phone the meeting was over? It happens! But don’t let it! Make sure to include them in the pre-meeting chatter and the post-meeting debrief. Make sure to call on them. Be aware of time zones when scheduling meetings. 

Technology – You might have guessed I would have technology in here somewhere. It is one thing I think we have all learned over the last two months. While video is not perfect, it does create a connection. I believe we have connected at a far more personal level virtually than we ever have face-to-face. We have been invited into each other’s homes. We have a window into each other’s lives…dogs, cats, kids, spouses. Far more personal than a picture of my grandkids on my desk is my grandson entering my office and saying “hi” to all the people on the video call. 

Creativity – Be creative in including everyone. If your office is known for donut Friday…send donuts to those who aren’t there. If you are having an after work gathering (post physical distancing, of course), open up a video conference and let the virtual employees participate. If there is energy in the office, make sure the energy crosses through the connection. 

There are numerous articles on workplace design and its impact on culture. Extend those design concepts to the remote worker. Do they have all of the equipment to do their jobs as if they were sitting in the office? The answer should be yes. 

I would love to hear from you. What ideas do you have for extending culture beyond place and space? Send me your thoughts! 

 

#AmplifyYourLeadershipWith credit to Bob Dylan for a great lyric, these times certainly are changing. In the last 100 days or so, we have all experienced tremendous change, change in the way we work (and in a lot of cases this change meant a loss of work) and change in the way we live. As our economy slowly begins to open up, many want to return to “normal”. But, normal isn’t there. Normal has changed, because we have changed. 

We have all been impacted. The change of the first four months of 2020 has been unlike anything any of us have ever experienced. There have been a multitude of lessons. There has been opportunity for growth personally, professionally. There are many lessons on the river ahead. 

Remember your first 100 days as a leader in a new role, or a new company? We’ve all walked in with our 100-day plan. It’s critical to a leader’s success. Presidents are measured on their first 100 days. We’ve been given a great opportunity. The world hit pause. Perhaps it was more like a CTRL-ALT-Delete reboot. Your next 100 days as a leader will define you for the next decade or more. Leading through the crucible of the previous 100 days will be nothing compared to the next 100 days. 

One of the great ironies of the last 100 days is that we have connected with each other on a deeper personal level through the use of video conferencing than we ever have in an office. We have had a window directly into each other’s homes. We have had scenes from our personal lives play out live for everyone to see. How will you maintain that level of vulnerability, that level of intimacy, that level of connection? 

You may be anxious to get back into the office. To feel that normal. You may thrive on the buzz of the office, the phones ringing, the conversation, the clacking of keyboards. But what of your team? Are they anxious to get back into the office, or just anxious. There will be some who embrace the return to the office. There will be some who are uncertain, perhaps even afraid. There will be some who have thrived in the work-from-home world of the last 100 days. 

New leaders have emerged. Have you seen them? Have you felt them guiding their co-workers and teams through these rough waters? Will you help them continue to grow as leaders? 

Are you ready to meet them all where they are? As individuals? As people?

The office will not have the same vibe. Not for a long time…if ever. Are you prepared? Do you have your first 100 days plan ready?

I'm Gone. Now What?

You may recall last month’s Leadership Q&A. Or…you may not…afterall it came out March 10…right before our world changed. At any rate, here is a link to Should I Stay or Should I Go

Obviously a lot has changed in the month since. Many of you may have had the choice made for you through a reduction in force (RIF), layoff or furlough. (Know the differences!) You may now be among the 100’s of thousands who have lost their jobs. You may be asking yourself or others, “Now What?” 

My answer to last month’s question is right where I recommend starting to answer this month’s question: Reflection! 

Step One: Reflection

One of the exercises I recommend to anyone who is in transition is to make a Top Ten List (borrowed from Letterman, but not nearly as funny). Actually, I recommend three top ten lists:

  • Top Ten things you would use to describe the perfect job
  • Top Ten things you would use to describe the perfect boss
  • Top Ten things you would use to describe the perfect company

Then force rank each list 1 to 10 (no ties). 

Step Two: Journal

If you follow my writing, you know I am a big fan of keeping a journal. There are many benefits to writing in a journal. In his post “10 Surprising Benefits You’ll Get From Keeping a Journal” on Huffington Post, contributor Thai Nguyen describes some of the benefits you will get from journaling. At least three (and probably all ten) will help you in your transition: achieving goals (your goal is to probably find a new job); healing (you may not be physically injured or ill, but you HAVE suffered a trauma); self-confidence (you may be questioning yourself and your skills right now). 

I’d like to add a couple more benefits to the list. Keeping a journal can help you process what has just happened. You want to work through those emotions before you start to network for your next position, and certainly before you go on your first interview. You need to make sense of what has just happened. Writing it down gives you the ability to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and plans. You can refer back to your writing to see how your thoughts, feelings and plans have evolved over time. 

The other benefit I’d like to point out, is it helps to keep you organized. You will be busy in the days and weeks to come. It will be easy to forget some things and “misremember” others. Having a record of your daily thoughts and activities will help you to keep it all straight. 

My wish and my promise

I wish you success on our journey to your next opportunity. My wish is that you find peace among the chaos, clarity among the confusion, and confidence among the doubt! 

My promise is if there is anything I can do to help along the way…ask! Send me an email, connect with me on LinkedIn, let me know how I can help. 

(In)visible LeadershipOur world has changed, seemingly overnight! If your LinkedIn newsfeed is anything like mine (and I am sure it is) it is full of posts and shares with advice. Advice for getting through the crisis that is still unfolding around us. Advice coming from all angles and perspectives. Advice delivered in many unique ways. 

Just this morning as I read through my feed: Advice on creating a safe place for employees in the form of a blog (thanks Doug), advice on storying telling in the form of a #BedTalk (thanks Alex), advice on being annoyingly optimistic also in the form of a #BedTalk (thanks Dimple), advice on being in a place of gratitude delivered as a #ParkTalk (thanks Brad), advice on dozens and dozens of ways to lead delivered as posts, free virtual meetings, virtual happy hours and webinars. To all those leaders who are sharing their words…THANK YOU! 

What do all these posts have in common? What is the Number One thing you can do as a leader in this time? 

Be Visible

What do their posts have in common? The people posting them are being visible. They are out there: sharing their thoughts, making us smile, giving advice. They are leaders. They are visible. 

What is the Number One thing you can do as a leader in this time? BE visible!

I love the story I was told yesterday about a CEO who is sending a weekly email to his entire organization. In it he is very transparent about the impacts to the business, he celebrates the wins, and he asks, genuinely asks, his employees how they are. He encourages them to reach out to him…and when they do…he responds. VISIBLE.

In similar fashion, a friend of mine is sending a weekly email to the entire company. In his email he talks about his own personal journey through the work-from-home mandates. Sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, always encouraging? Sound a lot like the first story? Here’s the thing. He is three or four levels removed from the CEO; he’s a “middle manager”. He’s VISIBLE.

Another, a CEO. She attends every team meeting she can each week. Dozens of them. Even if only for a moment. She is there. On video. Offering encouragement. Sharing herself. Dog barking in the background, kids videobombing, being real, being human. Being VISIBLE. 

The Challenge

My thought for you this week, my challenge for you is to be VISIBLE. Your teams, your company, your colleagues are looking for you. Your presence provides comfort. Your words provide hope. Your smile provides encouragement. BE visible. 

I would love to hear your examples. How are YOU being visible? How are the leaders in your organization being visible? Post in the comments; post on the social media platform of your choice (use #BeingVisible); send me an email. BE visible! 

Note from Jeff: in light of the current environment and the dynamic nature of the coronavirus pandemic, I thought it wise to break from my normal format. I’d like to highlight just a few of the words of wisdom I have seen on LinkedIn in the last few days: 

The first two were shared by Dave Linn:

Do not read about best practices for distance learning. That’s not the situation we’re in. We’re in triage mode. Distance learning, when planned, can be really excellent. That’s not what this is. Think about what you must cover and what might be expendable. Thinking you can manage best practices in a day or a week will lead to feeling like you’ve failed.

You can read the post in its entirety here

While Dave was sharing some insights for educators who are having to face the reality of distance learning, I think the same applies to business leaders who are having to face the reality of a remote workforce with little or no time to prepare. 

In another post, Dave reminds us to see who among us needs help:

How can you help? We’re all familiar with the airline safety instruction that someone should put on their own oxygen mask before helping others. That’s also a commonly used business analogy. Leaders need to make sure they are in the right place before they can take care of their teams.

Read what to do next here

Dave reminds us to look outside of our normal “followers”. As leaders, we need to look next door, across the street, and down the block for those that need our help in these times. 

Next from Phillip Berry: 

Peace be with you. Peace in heart and soul. Peace in your physical environment. Peace in the space between your ears. May peace be upon you in this strange and bewildering moment in time.

To read Phil’s full message of peace, click here.  

We are in a chaotic time, unlike any most of us have ever seen. Phil’s wish for us to find peace is a helpful reminder that we as leaders need to find peace and give peace to those around us! 

Thank you to Dave and Phil for reminding us what is truly important in life!

This Question Of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” Comes Up Often

A question came in this week in the form of an email from a former colleague with whom I have stayed in touch: 

“I would like to get together with you again for advice on where to go next. I still have a responsible position but didn’t get the leadership position cemented that I would have liked. 

When I met with you a few years ago, I said that I really enjoyed being the decision-maker or at least the one pulling the options together and obtaining approval of the recommended approach. 

After all this time, my boss is still at many times unavailable and leaves me to run many things.

But I don’t get the recognition I desire.

One of our main programmers just told me last week, “You’re doing almost everything.”

It is lonely being in this position, yet I don’t get anywhere asking for a regular 1:1 with my boss. 

Nor do I get the kudos I need to keep going on at this company.  

It’s been crazy busy as we are implementing a new system this Nov or Dec, also, and I’m a key person in the configuration. 

I just need another professional opinion on where to go next.

I don’t necessarily want to abandon all this and I have 15 years at this position, 8-9 in this particular role.” 

I think the question is one we all struggle with from time to time: “Should I stay or should I go?”

Step One: Reflection

One of the exercises I recommend to anyone who is in transition (or, in this case, contemplating transition) is to make a Top Ten List (borrowed from Letterman, but not near as funny).

Actually, I recommend three top ten lists.

Top Ten things you would use to describe the perfect:

  • job
  • boss
  • company 

In the case of someone contemplating a move, they should try not to think about their current job.

The bias may come through and they could end up with the top ten things they would prefer to change at their current job. 

Then force rank each list 1 to 10 (no ties). 

Step Two: Evaluate

Once you have those ranked lists, then think about your current job, boss and company.

Check each one that describes where you are now. 

It sounds like you are dissatisfied with your current position.

Does this exercise support that feeling?

Make you feel better or worse?

Leaving someplace where you have invested so much of your time and effort is difficult. Earlier in my own career, I had 12 years at one employer and 15 years at another. 

Leaving was incredibly difficult.

But…I wanted more. 

I think you have to ask yourself “why”.

What…

  1. drives you?
  2. motivates you?
  3. gets you excited to get up every day and go to work?
  4. things do you want to accomplish in the next three years?
  5. things do you want to accomplish in the next five years?

Step Three: Compare

If, after this exercise, you are still feeling stuck, network.

Talk to people about their roles in their organizations.

Share your top ten list with them.

How would they rank their position on your list?

Go on a few interviews. (This has the added benefit of keeping your resume current and interviewing skills sharp).

How do those roles rank on your list? 

So…should you stay or should you go?

Only you can answer that question.

Your top ten lists are going to be different than mine – chances are they will be different for everyone.

You may find your current role ranks pretty well in comparison…or, you may find it ranks dismally low. 

Do you relate?

If you relate to the above conversation, I would love to hear from you.

What are your Top 10 Lists?

Where does your current role rank?

Do you have different advice for my colleague? 

Post a comment, send an email, or give me a call!

I want to hear your stories!