2013: Getting Out Of The Box Sooner

I have seen some interesting prompts for 2013 goal setting and visioning.

I have seen several suggestions that we create a “word for the year” such as this post and any number of boards on Pinterest, such as this one from Mary Nelson-Huffman, whose word is “grow.”

The image most representative to me of my 2012 is my square wreath:

cropped wreath

It’s square because it sat in the box (the wreaths are sent to us every year on behalf of my in laws) for three weeks before anyone liberated it and hung it.  A three weeks where I thought hubs was going to do it because he said, on a day when he was industriously doing yard work, “get out the hook so the wreath can be hung” (said hook was dutifully gotten out). A three weeks where my teenager who was dying to have the house Christmas-y was “doing homework” and didn’t want to hang the wreath (not that homework isn’t important). A three weeks where hubs (about a week into the three) said, “seems like if you wanted it Christmas-y you would have hung the wreath.” Eventually he hung it and said, “the wreath is square.” Indeed.

It has been a year where I did not achieve my only written-down goal of running a 5K in less than 30 minutes, but adopted a new goal in February of running a half marathon for Autism Speaks. The half marathon has been run (in September). The 5K goal is getting transferred to 2013 (not the first transfer of this goal) and the wreath is square.

I don’t regret the delay in reaching the 5K goal that resulted from the training change-up involved in working toward the half marathon goal. I do regret the square edges on the wreath and the multitude of other things that I have let go over the year. The cluttered house; the cluttered office; the Executive Director who kept poking his head in, looking at the clutter (I moved offices right before vacation and came back to many fires to put out) with what I interpreted as “why can’t she get her sh*t together” disdain; the failure to delegate what could be delegated and to just handle what couldn’t as opposed to procrastinating.

If it’s true that “outer order brings inner calm,” then I have nowhere to go but up.

To digress a bit, the best “framing your 2013 resolutions” post I saw was (not surprisingly) from Leadership Freak. Entitled, “Beyond Typical S.M.A.R.T. Goals in 2013,” Dan Rockwell in his typically insightful way asked:

How do you want to think and feel about yourself when 2013 slips away?

– Does your behavior and attitude make you proud of yourself?

– How can you enhance your strengths and minimize your weaknesses?

– What can you do for you?

– How can you help others?

What contribution will you make to the way others think and feel about themselves?

– What can you do to make the future bright?

– How will you bolster self-confidence [for others]?

– How will you let others know they matter?

– How will you make others feel they belong?

– How will you help others work with others?

I can’t tackle all of these questions tonight in one post. But I’m going to let them simmer. I’m going to hope they give you some food for thought as your 2013 gets underway.

Honestly, if I had any guts at all I would share the “kayak” dream with all of you. It’s super-personal and airing it via my blog could hurt me professionally. (But I’m more than happy to share one on one/privately.) In brief, the “kayak” dream told me I’ve missed one particular boat in my life. And that leaves me the challenge of choosing the next boat, the next trip, the next destination.


And maybe that does leave me with a word of for 2013: direction.

A word, direction, and a plan to hang a round wreath for Christmas 2013.

May You Be Strong (A Post for Dan Rockwell)

May You Be Strong, Dan
(and How We Can Help)

Dan Rockwell has been writing succinct, powerful, inspiring posts about leadership via his Leadership Freak blog since December 2009. In the first Leadership Freak post, Dan said, with typical candor:

Among others, my battles include, selfishness, the need for the
spot light, and the need to control things.

While I would differ with Dan’s view that he is selfish and greedy for the spotlight, I have read almost every Leadership Freak post and it is clear that one of his battles is the “need to control things.”

That need for control was smashed in an instant in November 2011 when Dan had a serious automobile accident that rendered him flat on his back in a lifeflight helicopter, with a long recovery ahead once he survived the initial near-fatal injuries.

In Pulse magazine, Dr. Bill Ventres wrote about how a case of Guillian-Barre syndrome descended upon him rapidly while he was traveling in Guatemala, transforming him from an average tourist to a bedbound, 99.9% paralyzed patient within six hours. This condition would have been difficult for anyone, but for a physician it was especially grueling. He marvels at the transcendent power of kindness, such as the “nurse who massaged my feet as she trimmed my toenails–a gesture of humble yet profound caring in the face of my devastating loss of control and power.” Dr. Ventres’s nurse reminds me of the medical staff Dan lauded in this post about the healthcare professionals he has encountered since his accident. Despite Dan’s difficulties, he saw the potential in every individual who crossed his path.

In his “Hidden Power of Weakness” post, Dan shares the following observation: “Weakness lets you highlight the strength of others.” Although I know Dan’s spiritual and mental strength remain strong, I also know that the physical challenges caused by the accident are coupled with the financial challenges of mounting medical bills and expenses.

It is time for the strong Leadership Freak community to
unify on Dan’s behalf.

I encourage you to join in this effort immediately so we can get closer to the goal of raising $30,000 by December 31, 2011. The link to donate is here. Even if you can’t give money, you can help by sharing this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, or by tweeting this:

The @LeadershipFreak community is giving back to Dan Rockwell, who has given us so much. To contribute, go to http://bit.ly/rYOgCR

In his post about his battle with Guillian-Barre, Dr. Ventres shares the mantra/prayer that he repeated over and over while struggling to breathe: “May I Be Strong.” I would like to borrow and modify that mantra in order to send a wish to Dan.

May You Be Strong.

What’s The Code For “Doesn’t Blog Nicely”?

Earlier this week, I read about a teacher who was suspended for derogatory comments she made about her students. She made these comments on her blog (the specific blog with the derogatory comments has been taken down but much of the content is quoted here.) To be honest, my first thought was “is it possible that blogging about my job could result in disciplinary action?” I have blogged in order to process times I lost control and other times I lost control to cite a few.

Once I read Natalie Munroe’s original blog, though, and then read the comments made by students in response to the blog, my “wondering” shifted more to the gray areas in this situation. Sometime in her past, Ms. Munroe must have been enthusiastic about the prospect of a teaching profession. She must have (I hope) dreamed of reaching young minds, sharing the joys of literature, creating an educational foundation for lifelong learning. When did that dissipate?

The part of her approach I can relate to is the desire to vent about things in the workplace that are infuriatingly irritating. I have those things (most of us probably do, and I am sure my coworkers could easily turn the tables). I don’t want to vent to other coworkers about them and spread negativity. My spouse and children really don’t want to hear it. Being someone who vents by writing, it is tempting to take it online, at a site like Workrant that claims to offer anonymity. The issue (for me) with Workrant is, again, why spend all that energy on negativity (not to mention profanity)?

From the other perspective, as the mom of a 9th grade English honors student, I don’t want this teacher teaching my child if she is still in the state of mind she was in a year ago when she wrote this blog (which was intended mainly for family and friends, according to Ms. Munroe). If her blog is any indication, she has lost perspective. Sooner or later that will show.

In a recent post, Dan Rockwell (a/k/a LeadershipFreak) wrote about trust. Although the post did not assume a primary audience of teachers, its points, such as “Saying what you don’t want stops things. Saying what you do want instills confidence to start things,” are universal. Ms. Munroe does not want a child who (in her words) “has no other redeeming qualities.”  I realize that this is an era where teachers have suffocating pressure to meet all kinds of mandated standards, and that they don’t necessarily have the luxury of teasing out a child’s dormant redeeming qualities. But her comments still send a red flag up in my head.

This is what I said in comment to Dan Rockwell on January 31:

One thing that comes to mind related to this topic is that many people, being human, are more capable of building trust in some areas of their lives than others. For example, if my pilot has flown thousands of hours with no safety concerns, it saddens me but does not diminish my trust if the pilot would withhold information from me about potential high tax rates when (s)he sat on my city commission. I think that is important in employee environments; while it is ideal if a leader is 100% trustworthy and “golden” in all life areas, that’s seldom the case. And for that project, that vision, that mission, what is most critical is that the individual can be trusted as a leader. For me, number 6 is most powerful – take the time to let me know how my work and my attitude matter – once I know that, you will find that you can trust me with even more.

To keep on the line of logic of my comment, my child’s teacher doesn’t get the same “pass” that the pilot does. Her profession requires that she relate – to teachers and parents – and I sense in her blog comments that a fire is roiling under whatever exterior she is presenting to the teachers and parents – a fire that is dangerously close to breaking through to the surface.

One of Ms. Munroe’s complaints in her blog was that she is limited to numeric codes to express any elaborations she has beyond kids’ grades when she does report cards. She states that the “canned comments” don’t allow her to adequately express her “true sentiments” about the kids. We have a similar system here in Leon County. This is an example from my daughter’s report card:

I can see how a series of numeric codes can be limiting. Ms. Munroe said she finally ended up choosing “cooperative in class” for just about every child.

When I read the students’ comments back to Ms. Munroe’s blog post, there were a few snarky, sarcastic comments but there were also several that were articulate, pained, and profound.

I just wish that profundity had found expression face to face instead of via the blogosphere.

Note: To read Ms. Munroe’s posts about this situation, visit this link.

How Being a Supervisor Made Me a Different Subordinate

When I sent Dan Rockwell an email yesterday to elaborate on a question I had raised at the Leadership Freak Coffee Shop, I said “I have been meaning to write a blog post about how my experience supervising employees changed the way I behave as a subordinate.” Although this weekend and the first weeks of 2011 have handed me plenty of other “seeds” from which blog posts could grow, this one is begging to be written.

Photo Credit: anankkml

From the time I started at Healthy Kids in August 1994 until November 2009, I was supervising employees. The number varied, and sometimes there was a supervisor between me and the more junior employees, but I always supervised. Before that, I supervised telephone counselors when I was with the Telephone Counseling and Referral Service (TCRS) (now Big Bend 211). Prior to TCRS, I was a resident assistant/head resident at college starting the summer after my freshman year of college. This period that started November 2009 is the first time I have not been supervising anyone since I started at Healthy Kids, and concurrent with that move I got a new supervisor. 

One of Greg Smith’s specialties is “employee retention,” and I recall reading in his Navigator Newsletter a few years ago his “Top Ten Reasons Employees Quit,” in which he discusses the results of a retention survey he conducted. Thirty-five percent of respondents answered “yes” to the question “Was the attitude of your direct supervisor/manager the primary factor in your quitting a previous job?” I suppose my opportunity to retain staff through my attitude has come and gone for now (read my attempt to reconcile that here). Now I find myself on the other side, as a subordinate, and I see things through a different filter.


Doesn’t it all boil down to this in the workplace? I know I am sending a whole lot of communication up. I understand, more than I did before, that it is my responsibility to rescue the things that get stuck in the flood of information with which my supervisor has to contend. We have all seen (or heard), “well, I don’t know, the revisions have to be approved by a supervisor – I sent them last week/month/year and haven’t heard back.” Even ultra-organized supervisors can lose track of a project task in the midst of competing priorities and urgent issues. Help them out – remind them tactfully and do not use them as an excuse for a stalled task.


One of the very first things a new enrollee in Florida’s Certified Public Manager program does is an exercise in “motivators.” You list the top five things that motivate you in the workplace. The class combines all of the motivators, and the instructor presents the results. Whereas the common thought is that “money” would always be number one, that is not consistently the case. Other things like “encouragement,” “flexible time,” and “opportunities to learn” are equal to or more important than money. When I supervised, there were some things I would not have been able to give even if I had been convinced they were a particular employee’s biggest motivator (for example, I did not have the authority to allow anyone to telecommute), but I tried to be in tune with people’s motivators. This is an area where I see even more clearly from my not-a-supervisor role how disappointing it is when my values don’t seem to be taken into consideration. It reminds me of a time a decades ago when I was a kid — I was with my mom at my grandparents’ house (where we spent many weekends) and my mom had decided not to take me to youth group at church – I think a grandparent was ill or in some way more needy than usual. I said to my mom, hoping to be supportive, “I love you,” and she immediately said back, “I can’t take you to youth group, that’s it.” I guess she thought I was trying to suck up and earn the youth group trip; my motives were completely misunderstood. Workplaces that really try to understand what makes their employees “tick” and support that will get heaps of productivity out of those grateful employees.

Shared Vision

I suppose, in the past years, I was pretty oblivious to the fact that fellow staff and the people who reported to me did not necessarily feel “signed on” to the mission statement that I had helped write before many of them were affiliated with our organization. More recently, we had a consultant come in and work with management (director level up) on mission, vision, and values as part of a strategic planning process. Being part of that process meant a lot to me; now I sense a bit more acutely what the people who were not invited into the process must feel. While it may not be logistically possible or practical to gather every single employee around the table, it’s important that development of (and implementation of) organizational mission be “real” to everyone who works for the organization, whether they stamp the envelopes or sign the paychecks.


One of the biggest ways in which my view has been refined is the fact that when you are between more senior management and less senior staff, you are constantly having to customize the message given to the junior people to leave out content that is not pertinent to them and/or will create unnecessary concerns or distractions. Now that I am only on one side of that equation (the “less authority” side), I seesaw between understanding that my supervisor has pressures that influence the tasks I am given and result in things that are in actuality relatively low priority being given a high priority “label,” and having an almost compulsive need/desire to know what’s behind the messages I am given.  Employees like to understand the “why” behind their assignments. Except in the case of some very delicate information, employees can be trusted. If your employee is that untrustworthy, perhaps there are other issues that should be explored. 

Am I a better subordinate for having also been a supervisor? I would say the jury is out. While the jury deliberates, I will take some guidance from Tenzin Palmo, who wrote this in Neighbors Are Our Practice:

“Everybody encounters in their life people who seem to be born only to have the function of pushing all our buttons, who seem motivated to be difficult and to cause us problems. Instead of making us angry or wanting to retaliate, these people are actually our greatest spiritual friends. Because while it’s very pleasant when everyone is being nice to us and all the situations in our life are running smoothly, we don’t learn anything.”

Do you have any insight to share with me from a similar time in your life? Any experiences discovering that someone who “pushed all your buttons” turned out to be your “greatest spiritual friend”? Tell me about it in the comments!

Got Five Minutes for 2010?

This #Reverb10 prompt by Patti Digh and I found each other right when I was starting to think about how I wanted to process this year via my blog. I loved it right away:

 Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

I will admit a few things up front before I set the alarm and do my “five minutes.”

1) I read the prompt at least a week ago, so I have had some time to let the ideas germinate in my head.
2) I plan to tinker as little as possible with the product of my five minutes, so don’t be surprised if there is (gasp!) unconventional grammar. Spelling mistakes, however, would give me too much cognitive dissonance so I’ll have to fix those!
3) I may go back in and add links if I refer to past blog posts or topics.
That being a mom is my most important life’s work. That my daughter takes my breath away when I see the woman in her coming to be. That my son makes me see the world in new ways with each day. That I am glad to have been married 18 years to someone who is faithful to me and vice versa, and that he and I are friends. That through my writing, I was able to deal with old “stuff”. That I was more honest with myself about who I really want to be, and the fact that I am not “there”. That I got closer to the three goals I have written down and carry everywhere with me – going to Guatemala, being “the Big Green Pen,” and being my kids’ main driver.

That it is sad to see my father in law aging in front of my eyes –

That I loved running with my son at Breakfast on the Track and St. George Island. That I loved discovering yoga, swimming, biking and RealRyders.

That I still seek a spiritual guidance and want that for my family.

That the oil spill made me sick – that and racism, prejudice, and hatred.

That having a love as a teenager who turned out to be gay is the best thing that ever happened to me from the standpoint of being empathetic. That he and I are still friends.

That work is something I have to come to terms with – will I always be doing this or is there something different/more/better that I can do with reverence?
That I love proofreading and so appreciate Rhett, Donna, and Barbara for entrusting their works to me (Senator McKnight as well).

That I don’t like shopping but I love big splashy wedding stuff (still). Why do they always show SuperNanny now instead of “Whose Wedding is it Anyway?” when I need an escape?!

Soapbox Derby with Wayne Kevin, and the Soap Box Derby Family.

Time’s up.
I am grateful for Dan Rockwell’s reply to me when I commented on his “Spotting Blind Spots” post last week. In his reply, he said: 
“Your transparency both challenges and encourages.”
I hope the “five minutes” thing was truly just an exercise – the kaleidoscope of images and memories of 2010 run the gamut from heartbreaking to exhilarating, but in all their intensity I want to keep many of them in my memory bank. 
The #Reverb10 project aspires to reflect on this year and manifest what’s next. I encourage you to spend your five minutes, too, to say goodbye to 2010 in words.  What would make your list?
Photo Credit:  Salvatore Vuono

Your Home is My Home (A Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)

For tonight’s post, the random number generator handed me prompt #2: If you could witness (or take part in) any event in history, what would it be? Why?  This sounded deceptively easy until I tried to decide what historic event I would write about.  My decision coalesced when I was commenting on Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak post “Pressure to Be Invisible.” 

In my response to Dan’s post, I was answering the question: Can you think of people who changed the world by standing out?  Here is a modified version of what I said, utilizing information from the Tallahassee Democrat’s 2006 Special Edition on the 50th anniversary of our town’s Bus Boycott: 

There was a (white) family here in Tallahassee (George and Clifton Lewis) who, in the mid 50′s, opened their home to black people; George (a prominent banker) made loans to black homeowners and those who were jailed. Believe me when I say that there are times even in 2010 when this town struggles with civic equality (it is exponentially better, of course); for a family like this to take such a step in the 50′s really boggles my mind and makes me humbly respectful. They changed the world and stood out by opening their doors, literally and figuratively.

I learned about the Lewis family from Edwina Stephens.  Tenley and I visited Edwina several years ago; she had been recommended to me as someone who Tenley could interview in order to learn about the history of race relations in Tallahassee (the Democrat was compiling information gathered by schoolchildren).  I am pretty sure I learned at least as much and maybe more than Tenley.  Mrs. Stephens talked to us for well over an hour.  I really wish I could have the tape recording back, but it seems to have disappeared into a black hole at the Democrat’s offices.  I don’t need the recording, though, to conjure up in my mind the parts of our conversation that have stuck with me: how lynchings occurred at the tree that still stands on the grounds of our Old Capitol, how impossible it was for an African American person in Tallahassee to prove “competence” to vote (how many soap bubbles on the bar of soap? having to solve complicated mathematical equations); how dangerous it was to treat a white child at the black hospital, even if the child’s health were in serious jeopardy; the separate education systems.  I don’t recall the specific details she shared about the Lewis family, but I remember her talking about how, to the shock and disdain of their fellow Tallahasseeans, they supported the town’s black citizens through financial assistance and emotional support.

Edwina Stephens and Tenley (2005)

George Lewis provided financial support to Tallahassee’s black citizens, and Clifton Lewis opened their home to blacks and marched in civil rights demonstrations.  I always wonder if I would have the courage to do what’s right in the face of disdain and outright hostility from my peers.   For example, several years ago I was at a family gathering and a cousin who I only see every few years, but with whom I have always considered myself fairly close, told a joke that was anti-semitic and racist.  I froze.  What to do?  I ended up saying, “Oh, so that’s a [name of small town he lives in] joke, huh?”  My response, in belittling his town, may not have been any better than his original attempt at humor. 

To get back to the prompt’s original question, I would like to have been a witness to the turning of the civil rights tides here in Tallahassee, and I would like to have been at Clifton Lewis’s side when she said, “come on in – your home is my home.”

Mama's Losin' It

Shattering Expectations

If you spend much time at all being trained as a contact center customer service representative, or training customer service representatives, you will hear about “smile mirrors.”  The idea is that you watch yourself in the mirror, to make sure you are smiling, so that the customer can “hear the smile in your voice.”

This example is from http://www.trainerswarehouse.com/.

If I had a smile mirror at my desk, it would have shattered into pieces after a recent interaction between a customer and me.  I lost my cool, attracting the attention of our Executive Director, probably earning my way onto the customer’s next missive to her legislator, and obtaining for myself material for a blog that I would rather not write.

I write about this incident because:

a) Many of my readers give me good ideas (and if nothing else help me regain perspective)
b) I needed to confess this ultimate of customer service transgressions
c) For all the posts I write singing the praises of fantastic customer service or grousing about mediocre customer service, this incident was a reminder to me that everyone has their highs and lows
d) The irony was not at all lost on me that Dan Rockwell, the “Leadership Freak“, had just invited me to send in a picture and a bio so I could be included on his “Featured Bloggers” page (fortunately, he understands being human.)

I have helped talk people down from suicidal moments, as a volunteer counselor, trainer, and on-call supervisor for Telephone Counseling and Referral Service (now Big Bend 211).  In this case, my coworker and I had been dealing with Mrs. “X” for weeks.  The situation was complex and made more complex by the fact that many different entities had been enlisted by Mrs. “X” to help solve the problem.  Mrs. “X” did not represent the situation accurately, and it quickly escalated into a situation where the grease would be liberally doled out for the squeakiest of wheels.  In the buildup to “the hangup”, my coworker had explained the situation to Mrs. “X,” who stated I had told her otherwise.  When I came out of a meeting, my coworker advised me that Mrs. “X” still disagreed.  I left her a message outlining the bare bones of our answer, reiterating the position that I had held all along.  When caller ID showed that she was calling in, one minute before I had to leave to pick up my son from a camp with an immovable end time, I answered and explained that I had an obligation outside of the office and offered to speak with her at length the following morning.  She proceeded to state everything that “I” had told her, statements which were the absolute opposite of what I had said.  After attempting to calmly explain what I had stated, repeatedly, the combination of having my integrity questioned (by the way, here’s where the fictional mirror would have started to crack), knowing the background facts of a web of untruths on the customer’s part that had gotten us to this situation, a couple of stressors outside the office that were nagging at me and the ticking clock reminding me exactly how late I was to pick up my son, that I hung up on this caller.  Yes, I did.  I am not proud.  And I called her back to apologize (like I told our ED I would do after his visit to me). 

I would have been better off letting the call go to voice mail.  After several weeks working with this individual on her issue, there was nothing I could have said in our conversation that would have changed anything, nothing that could not have waited until the next morning.  I would have been better off reminding myself that the fact that a caller is questioning my integrity over and over doesn’t mean I don’t have integrity. 

Leann Rimes tweeted this tonight:  Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch (source unknown).

I’m afraid in this case I left more than a fingerprint – on her and on me.

What are some options in a situation like this?  What would your mirror reflect?

Thanks for the cyber-ear tonight, readers!  I will look forward to “running” into you next week!