The Door and the Window

When I first learned how to cry for those who went before me I learned it from the best. My Irish family, my German family, my imbibing family. They showed me, and they insisted, that I grieve loudly and longly. To each of them I am forever indebted.

Thankfully there were many years in between the important losses. Many years when I got to be earthbound with the ones I love. But last week when my brother crossed that thin veil-between to the side without carbon forms, I found I was no longer in touch with the freedom of my tears. I had learned that my grief might cause discomfort in people around me. With adult focus I understood that perhaps everyone doesn’t agree that embracing sad is the only way to happy. Minding my manners, I found the loudness of my love happening only in the silence of my aloneness.

Then, as the universe is wont to do, a gift appeared on my doorstep. In modern times, that means my text messages. A dear friend whose circumstances – coupled with mine – got in the way of us always finding time, was suddenly there. Our love was shared through the energy of our voices over the phone, and that “it feels like just yesterday” reality bridged the decade between our conversations. I knew she had never been gone from my heart or my mind. And in the midst of the reason for the call, the catching up, and the “Oh My God I have missed you” moments, I also got to share my so-sad sibling loss with real tears and loud sobs.
And then the smiles got to come and I know they are here for the duration. It is no doubt the gift we have just received from the seeming mix-up that put us both in the bottom of the blender again at the same time.

And this time I will not let go.

Good bye Bob. Hello Tom and Denise. Thanks for trading placesf or this little time I have available to hug you with real arms.

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The REAL story

I have had the material for an amazing book for much longer than I can remember. All of the stories, anecdotes, failures, and successes of my career – and that of my friends – are perfect reading for any woman wanting to know how to climb up a corporate ladder. And stay there should she choose to. As with most writers, I experience the “reluctance wall” as I have come to know it; that block between where I am standing or sitting, and the chair in front of my computer. Kind of like the block I feel when I consider how I will respond to the alarm going off to prompt me to the gym.

 

Sheryl Sandburg, COO of Facebook, wrote a book along the same theme that I am passionate about. Her book came out to mixed review about both content and sincerity. One of the biggest complaints is that her advice only works for women who have plenty of money and who can outsource the parts of their lives they aren’t interested in. Like laundry. And child care. And, to my particular rant, writing their own book.

 

I have spent countless hours talking about the content of “Dancing on the Glass Ceiling.” Gathering it, testing it, philosophizing about it, and repeating it. I wish I had the luxury of having a “co-writer” following me around through all of those conversations.  I would have a tome by now rather than a simple self-help-business book.

 

But I don’t. So I will struggle to write my book the same way I struggled to climb the corporate ladder. I will reach into the tool box and pull out my discipline and time management skills. I will look around my house and decide it doesn’t need to be perfectly clean. I will forego happy hour in order to study technique, create an outline, or perhaps even finish a chapter. And I will get there just as surely as I made it to that ceiling dance.

 

And all of you other successful women who got there? Maybe you don’t want to write a book about it. But maybe you have a story that you think is worth telling. I would be honored to be your co-writer. Contact me and tell me YOUR story – I will make sure it gets out into the consciousness where those who are seeking can find their muse. I am convinced that the next women walking the plank will get usable information from the stories of real people with real families and real children and real dust. Help me tell the story of us – the scrappy ones who got there in spite of the odds.

 

 

Play Ball!

Play Ball

My senior in high school I made a deal with my friend Diane: she would give volleyball a try and I would give basketball a try. Anyone with a bit more wisdom than the two of us would have seen immediately how this was going to work out. My friend was short and very close to the floor – actually the perfect build for a point guard. I was tall and gangly – a perfect ball striker. Or center.

She hated volleyball. I LOVED basketball. Under the tutelage of the coolest teach in school (a young handsome male teacher) we ended up finishing in the championship games, and I ended up with a basketball emblem for my letter sweater.

We both chose Seattle University for college. I went there because they gave me a scholarship – I’m not sure what Diane’s reasons were but the school is forever changed because of her. Her passion for basketball was much deeper rooted than mine, so when she found out that the university only offered an intramural basketball team for women she was outraged.   They used pennies for uniforms and dribbled the lopsided balls rejected by the men’s program. Completely unacceptable in her estimation.

Now, as luck would have it, the honors program I was in was headed by Sister Rosalie Trainer. It seems Sister Trainer was also the Head of women’s athletics. Given her advanced age of at least fifty at the time, the thought of progress seemed a bit hopeless to us. But I used my academic “connection” with her to gain an audience for Diane and I, wherein we presented our absolutely PERFECT pitch on why SU should have a varsity women’s basketball team.

Sister Trainer was a total buzz kill. She completely disagreed. First she pronounced that there weren’t enough women interested. And besides, even if there were, there was no one to coach and no money to pay for one should we dig up someone interested.

This all happened in 1975. What also happened in 1975 was the first failure of a Seattle School District levy in ages. Schools were forced to cut programs and lay off teachers. The young ones without seniority were first to go. Which left our handsome basketball coach from Ballard High School magically unemployed. Diane and I took our pitch on the road. When I imagine us making our case of how great it would be for him if he threw in with us, I’m not sure how he could have said no. He agreed to coach the SU Varsity Women’s Basketball Team. For Free.

Sister Trainer didn’t have much left to protest about, with the exception of her belief that there was no interest. We made her a deal – we would have a meeting and see if enough people showed up to make the scheme viable. If not, we would go away.

More than 60 women came. She was surprised, but kept her part of the bargain. And that’s how the Seattle University Women’s Basketball Team came into existence.

 

 

Made-Up Words

One of my pet peeves about  business is the incessant need to invent words. I am not sure the purpose of the pursuit, unless the results of confusion and elitism are the goal. As an executive who strives for clarity in all communication, I find the practice annoying.

We are blessed to have many large companies in our region who are able to churn out an abundance of highly trained, organized, systemic thinkers. An unintended consequence (and apparently an unnoticed one as well,) is that these same thinkers believe those made-up words are common vernacular.

Here is my rant for the day:  if I have to sit in one more meeting with a person who can only think in terms of their particular company’s system, or who can’t describe an activity without turning a noun into a verb, I am going to stand up and scream “STOP IT. SPEAK ENGLISH!”

Yesterday I was introduced to the moniker “Teaming”.  Through careful listening and attention to context, I deduced that this is code for all of the activities associated with getting the right employees in the right seats doing the right jobs. Couldn’t we have said just that so that no one was left feeling as if they didn’t know the language being talked around the table? And I could have actually been thinking about the task at hand rather than wondering what was being said?

In the art of communication,  fewer words is the very definition of efficiency. Not only are there  fewer opportunities for confusion, there are expanded opportunities for inclusion.

Get Outta Here!

I have identified a particular goal that every successful leader embraces: Cultivate an environment that allows your employees and managers to SAFELY send you back to your office when you stick your nose into their business. And when they do, know they are right.

If this sounds “soft” and simplistic, it isn’t. It is a very systematic approach to creating success in your organization. The commitment isn’t insignificant – it is about building a culture. It must hold the forefront so the goal informs decision-making at every level of the company. Here are some considerations to getting there:

Consider first your people. Not only do they have to be the right people, they have to be trained to perform, communicate, and look around corners. Teaching them the technicalities of a job is the easy part. Mentoring them on how to think and make decisions is an ongoing journey that you all take together. Their training is based in the reality of your day-to-day issues, and the time you spend guiding them transfers your finesse to them.

Consider next your management reporting systems. Stepping up and aside does not mean you should adopt a “trust me” culture.  Your systems have to be structured to provide you with information that clearly shows the intersection of all the moving parts in your organization. Budgets, KPI’s, feedback processes, and third-party input are just a few examples of the things you need to monitor in order to remain above the fray.

Last but not least, consider yourself. Are you comfortable having others be better at their jobs than you are? Can you let their decisions drive actions even if they are different than the way you might proceed? This system thrives on trust; ego and fear have no place. Your comfort level will grow over time; it is the logical result of the right people combined with the right systems.

I think I’ll go back and rewrite this post. Consider yourself and your role first.

 

 

The Secret to Success?

Although I am a bit saddened to see the summer ending, I admit there is one thing the increasing darkness contributes toward making my life significantly better. When it gets dark earlier, I can go to bed earlier.

I am a night owl and always have been. It’s been a bit of a challenge in the corporate environment since companies expect for employees to have butts in seats at a time I consider early. Like 8:00 a.m.  Even as the CEO of my own company, I find it hard to throw off a couple decades of work habits. Truth be told, I feel guilty if I am not at least reading email and drinking coffee before 9:00 a.m. And not still wearing my bunny slippers.

On the flip side, I am completely able to stay up deep into the double-digit hours indulging myself in my creative pursuits. There is no guilt, and despite evidence to the contrary I can always convince myself that tomorrow won’t be that hard to get through.

So the other night, after one more experience of nodding off inappropriately in the middle of the afternoon, I made a pact that I would go to bed early that night. I did, and lo-and-behold, I found out something the next morning that surprised me. Here is my big “ah ha”. Jumping rope and boxing is MUCH EASIER when you have had enough sleep.

This doesn’t appear to be rocket science, and actually seems like an elementary conclusion. But I had been using my morning torture session at the gym as the means to wake me up by forcing a bunch of air into my lungs and extremities. I even thought it was working (since I obviously didn’t interrogate reality in any meaningful fashion). I was fully invested in the notion that a morning workout would make my mind sharper and enhance all of my pursuits of the day. And substitute for sleeping, which seemed to be interfering with my pursuits of happiness.

I tested my discovery for the next three nights. Not only did my workouts get more fun, more productive, and less painful, but my work became crisper, more focused, easier, and actually quite a bit better.

I am sold.

If you are one of those over-stressed folks that I work with every day, changing your life could be as simple as longer sessions with your favorite pillow. I know, you are all way too busy and there is  just not enough time in the day. I agree. But indulge me and try increasing your sleep for just three nights in a row. I think you may find a new normal and a new path to success.

Push-ups

Today I am celebrating my ninth month of going to the boxing gym, and I still can’t do “boy” pushups. Try as I might, one or two take me to the ground and back up.  After that it is a one or two-inch shift that mainly resembles an arm balance.

Today my coach came by during push-up torture and told me I should actually be doing bent-knee push ups. WHAT? I thought I would eventually improve on my form if I kept practicing. She said no – that by not going fully into the position I wasn’t actually building any strength.

Who knew?

So now I will proudly be the only one in the gym doing “girl” pushups, knowing that I am finally on the road to improvement. I am the perfect example that if you keep doing the same wrong thing over and over you will never achieve the right results.