Mother’s Day is Not Just for Mother

tumblr_oqft68B1K21ta0hnbo1_1280For the past few years, I’ve been celebrating Mother’s Day by tweeting ‘Momisms’ – those things my mom said to me and the ones I’ve said to my own kids. But this time around it occurred to me that at least some of them might be useful for business. I know…your boss, co-workers, and employees aren’t your kids. But you do have some responsibility for them, don’t you?

Here’s an annotated selection for 2017.

First, a few from my school years, slightly updated for millennials.

Get your nose out of that (e)book and go find someone to play with.

My mom never knew what an ebook was, but she was right about the books that I – over-thinking eight-year-old – had my nose buried in. (They weren’t even slightly racy. They were math and science. I was only eight and boys were still in the theoretical realm, if you get my drift.) What she knew – and what I’m suggesting now – is that there are things you can accomplish with other people that you can’t do yourself. So, get your face out of your phone and if you don’t have a team or a tribe, go do some F2F networking.

Try it. It’s good to learn what you don’t like, too.

This one dates back to the beginning of my life as a full-fledged teenager. It was mom’s way of saying you could go on a date and it was okay to decide (after it was over) that once was enough. But at least you tried, and your reward was in learning about what didn’t work for you. Being married to dad for a really long time, she wasn’t much help with the more complicated situations, but still, she got her point across… Probably accounting for the first seven pages of my resume. So, risk it, millennials. You don’t care about resumes anyway, so just make everything a learning experience.

Use tech carefully. It goes on your permanent record.

I believed mom when she told me that all that trouble we got into with the principal’s secretary (by messing with her mechanical Fridan desk calculator) would forever be emblazoned in our permanent records. (We were not hacking the cloud, we just tried dividing by zero…) This was, of course, long before you could use STEM and girl in the same sentence. But, that was then, and now there is nothing you want more on your permanent record than the fact that you are an awesome coder, have thousands of followers, and are launching the coolest startup ever next month. Just be careful, because when certain tech achievements get on that record, strange men may start following you. With checkbooks.

The next group of momisms are memories from the beginnings of my own foray into motherhood. If you haven’t gone there yet yourself, be warned: everything your mother said will be right there, just waiting to drop out of your mouth, even as your brain is yelling, “Arghhh, I really hated hearing this when I was a kid.” It’s Mother Nature’s revenge, I think. But I used these momisms when the kids were little, and yet they grew up to be pretty nice human beings.

These are all relatively simple, which is key when you’re dealing with kids. Or stressed-out adults.

Sit up straight. Stand up straight. Be straight with others.

The only failures are the people who give up before they succeed.

Be curious, take initiative. It’ll get you through most of life.

Respect mom every day and you can forget the card.

Make mom happy. Just be a good person.

Experience is a great teacher, but only if you learn from it.

Always ask if you can help clear the table or wipe the dishes.

Ok, that last one might require just a tiny bit of ‘momsplaining.’ What she meant (and then what I meant) is that it’s so much more fun to give than to take. Especially orders. What she didn’t tell me is that it could also be called a pre-emptive strike.

Which takes us to today, which is the day I really get that you never lose your history, but you bring it into everything you do. And, if your mom can’t call to say you misquoted her or, more likely, you totally misremembered whatever that was that caused you to think that, you get to gently edit those wonderful momisms of the past.

Do not hire jerks. They will turn your culture into sludge.

Mom didn’t say it exactly that way, but she was pretty clear when she said, “The company you keep is the person you become.” Or something like that. If you’re an entrepreneur, like me, you want your team to keep the culture clean, open, and welcoming of everyone, no matter their externals.

Give other people credit. Cash too when you can.

It may have been dad who came up with this one, but I’m sure mom agreed. And in full disclosure, they were both union members, so no business owner’s mindset there. Still, whether you’re an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, or worker-by-the-hour, you can give people credit. (And really, if you’re one of those CEOs who takes out 200 times what your average worker earns, just think for a moment about what happened to the Gordon Gekkos of the 80’s. Maybe greed really isn’t so good.)

And finally, the most important lesson of all.

The art of living invariably includes the art of loving. And vice versa.

Thanks, mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

Advertisements

People are More Important than Things

For me, it all started with the simple idea that people are more important than things. How many times, I wonder, did I say that to my kids?

Right now, to me, it seems like only yesterday. A roaring blizzard had us stuck inside our New York apartment for what seemed like months. Andrew was four and a half, Marni just past a year. But, on the day in question, I learned a fundamental truth about teaming from those two unlikely mentors.

A neighbor’s daughter was visiting, and she and Andrew were deeply engaged in reconfiguring the living room furniture, to create a veritable city of interlocking tents. I knew enough to keep my architectural sensibilities to myself. So, I took Marni into another room and read ‘Hop on Pop’ for the fifty thousandth time. And then the phone rang…

Just moments into the conversation, I heard a lot of giggling, some mysterious crunching sounds, and then a wail… MOMMY…. She’s smashing our tents….

I dropped the phone, put my senior negotiator hat on, and went to investigate, ever hopeful that I could bring peace in my lifetime. If not world peace, at least some level of domestic tranquility.

But it was not to happen in that way. I tried all my best lines. ‘She’s too young to understand.’ ‘Big brothers protect their little sisters.’ ‘Mommy is getting a colossal headache and it’s going to be nap time in three minutes!!’

Of course, my little defendant-in-training was determined to fight back, and unfortunately for me, his little mind had had been carefully nurtured in the arts of persuasion.

He started by recapping the situation. “Mommy, we were building a Very Important part of our project (sounding as if the enterprise was being funded by Peter Thiel.) And she just came in and smashed it flat. And when I tried to reason with her and get her to do some work, she just ran away screaming.”

In an instant, I understood. This was no different than things I had seen happen in the workplace.

What had gone wrong?

First, there was a team on a mission: to build whatever their vision told them to.

Second, they had clearly defined whose responsibility was what.

Third, they were having a great time. You might even say that they were engaged and highly productive!

But then their team was descended upon by someone who could not possibly contribute to any of their needs.

Marni was not a great fit for the mission of the team, and didn’t have an appreciation for its mission, so instead of supporting the team’s drive to succeed, she wound up being a roadblock – leaving everyone frustrated and unhappy.

Generational change in the workplace can lead to problems like this, due to increasingly divergent views of what’s really important and how best to get things done. But that’s not the fundamental problem. The real problem is that if the needs of the team – as a living, breathing thing – are not made clear, and accepted by all, its mission is at risk.

As the late Madeleine L’Engle said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” She was not only my children’s favorite author, she was also mine, and an inspiration to me as a very young writer. This was an idea I wanted to share with you, with thanks to my (now very adult) children for teaming with me in the learning adventure called life.

A Good Time for Good Will

linda-xu-216043Goodwill, I’ve learned from colleagues who practice the mysterious art of business valuation, is not an easy thing to quantify. There are standard guidelines, but each seems to have a unique recipe or method for assigning a number to intangible assets, and sometimes they even agree. But not often. Especially when they are on opposite sides of a negotiation.

I’m going to leave that variety of goodwill to the experts because, to me, it’s just another number that might describe how much of something good is going on, but not whether it’s actually making a difference.

Those of you who know me well know I’m always looking for change. Positive change. Enduring change. Change with the potential to expand and cascade into the beginnings of a better world. For everyone.

You know – or can probably figure out – that recent events in America, as well as abroad, have caused me to question whether I can hope for change any more. (Maybe my tagline should read ‘Hoping for change since the sixties and still not giving up.’)

So I thought, what if we went back to the non-financial definition of good will. As in ‘Peace on Earth, Good Will to All.’ Where ‘good will’ is based on action – something you give to, or do for, or nurture in others; not just a number.

What if – instead of counting our LinkedIn connections, Twitter follows, Facebook friends, or blog subscribers – we started counting our acts of good will? And what if, instead of counting our calories, or steps, or unanswered emails, we counted the number of people we touched with caring? What if all that really counted in our lives were acts of charity, of kindness, of love?

And what if, eventually, we could no longer count good will because it became one continuous action? One way of life?

Then, perhaps, as the holiday refrain goes, we really could sing in perfect harmony: celebrating our interdependence, and our differences, while serving something bigger than our small selves.

It would be a start.

Let’s let 2017 be the time to start. Together. Because change, like everything else that makes a difference, takes a team.

And may 2017 bring you not only peace and good will, but many opportunities to have more of both.

Happy Holidays from the team that brings you Teamability®

Management – Like Love – Means Letting Go

I usually address bright, big picture topics, but this time circumstances have brought it very close to home. I hope you won’t mind.

In the early evening of Sunday, August 30, after many years of declining health, my husband of 33 years went gentle into that good night.

Those who were close knew Barry as an incredibly loving person, but he was still quite able to rage against social inequalities and injustices – whether big (think slavery, 9/11, or Rwanda), or small.

He had no way to address holocausts, but he did have a constructive response to the slights and rudeness and dismissive behaviors he observed against those who could not fight back. And the fact that there were good reasons for not fighting back – potential loss of livelihood, or even life itself – is what truly raised his ire.

These days, a management consultant might praise Barry’s approach as ‘scalable, repeatable, and sustainable.’ He simply showed people he cared. He modeled respect; not just tolerance. Even the most downtrodden would have his full engagement for as long as civil discourse continued, after which he would politely withdraw. And that, it turns out, was the greatest management lesson I ever learned: to withdraw. To be silent. To let go.

How often are management problems – like personal relationship problems – caused by the inability to just let go?

Case in point: I know someone who works in the innovation department of a huge company. The job description is, basically, find exciting and cool stuff, and report on it. So when I found an exciting and cool article on a very respected website, I sent this very hard worker the link.

I got an immediate response…but not the one I was expecting. It went something like, ‘<expletive deleted!!>, they won’t let us access that site. Actually, most everything is blocked. Makes it really hard to do my job.’

At some point – who knows when or why – someone decided that the company needed to control where people go, and what they see, on the web. Now that choice is obsolete and obstructive to the company’s own desire to innovate and grow. And yet, no one is letting it go.

Just saying.

Personal relationships are much the same. Really, if you have to hold on tight to control your partner, how whole can they be? And how good is that for you?

A very wise person said to me, “when we are infants our hands are curled up; when we grow old, they are relaxed open.” When I heard it, I thought, that is equally true of our maturity as managers.

In the end, there was no holding Barry back from his final journey. Even if there was, it’s not the way he would have wanted me – or him – to manage it.