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!

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®

Being SMART may not be so smart after all. 

christian-rosswag-154067Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, I’m guessing that some of them are still in the works, such as those involving goals for the entire year. Are they making you frustrated? It’s no secret that, along with performance evaluations, goal setting is one of those things people never quite learn to love. And yet, setting goals is one of those things everyone (particularly authors and bloggers) expects successful business people to do, despite the fact that successful business people often hate doing things other people expect of them.

But tradition is tradition, so on January 1, I sat down, pen in hand, to jot some notes. And all I could think of was the old organizational command to make your plans SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. Back in the day, these were supposed to be the delimiters of sure-fire goal setting. If your goal couldn’t stand up to those, it just wasn’t making the grade.

But this is now, and now is the age of innovation. And, being a lover (and creator) of innovation, I asked myself whether I should still be following the processes of an earlier era. Here’s what emerged…

Specific stayed, because if a goal isn’t specific, how do you ever figure out where you’re headed?

And I kept Measurable, because although I don’t like rating systems, I do like to have some idea of how far I’ve come, and whether I’m still on track.

Relevant made me think hard. When you have a very broad range of applications, or you’re trying something completely new, then relevance may not be known at all during the planning stage, and can only emerge from the process. (For the fashion-aware, consider the problem of ‘orphan’ accessories. I once had a fabulous, but useless, beaded belt that I kept around for ages. Then one day an ensemble appeared in my closet that just screamed for turquoise beads.) Sometimes a thing will make itself relevant just by chance, which is a good reason for having a looser definition of the word.

Then there was Time-bound: a no-brainer because I was thinking ‘goals for 2016’ rather than the next decade or millennium.

Which brought me back to Attainable. That, too, seemed obvious…until I did a quick check in an online dictionary and learned that Attainable things are within your reach.

‘Within reach’ suggests that you can get what you want without a whole lot of stretch or effort. Now, if you keep a scoreboard that you like to decorate with a lot of wins, put plenty of ‘attainables’ on your to-do list. But if innovation and change are what you seek, then SMART goals need a warning label: DANGER: Attainable goals may be damaging to your organization’s ability to innovate.

Focusing on attainable goals could also be a turn-off to the very people who are most capable of handling risk, making discoveries, and creating innovation! Those are the people who rarely ask if something is possible or not. They just go for the goal – asking bigger questions, covering more ground, trying harder, and stretching further.

In Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books, there was the White Queen who said, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!” No one would accuse her of SMART planning – and yet, believing the impossible to be possible is a sure way to bypass the barrier of achievability. Can you imagine what might happen if your goals didn’t need to be achievable? I can.

  1. You’d have nothing to lose. With no one expecting sure-fire success, you could feel free to take some wild-ass swings. Sure, some will be whiffs, but you might just knock the ball out of the park. (Believe it or not, fear is the biggest cause of failure.)
  1. You can still go for simple solutions. If they don’t work, you’ll be right: your goal wasn’t achievable. But you’d be primed to succeed, so you’d try an alternative path. And another, and another. And should you eventually get there, so much the better! (Being right and winning are not the same – but they’re not mutually exclusive.)
  1. You’d forever leave the ranks of the narrow-minded; the people who put the ‘no’ in innovation, joining instead the ones who bring positive change and brighter futures.

May your ‘impossible’ of 2016 become your successful innovation of 2017!

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.

Timing Isn’t Everything. Teaming Is.

Some days I have so many ideas that I despair of ever seeing anything come of them. You see, to me, all my ideas – like my children – are precious. They just need someone to raise them. Like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, there are so many, I rarely know what to do.

That’s what made it so wonderful to be asked to speak at TEDx-Bedminster*. Not only would this be a platform for my ideas, but in the process I would get to hear other timely and beneficial ideas as well.

The first TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference took place in 1984. It was the brainchild of Richard Saul Wurman, a Philadelphia architect who decided he would rather ‘architect’ information than bricks and mortar. Wurman envisioned it as an annual forum for “ideas worth spreading.” Today, topical TED conferences and TEDx (regional) talks are happening around the world year-round, and TED videos online get millions of views. There’s even a TED Channel on Apple TV!

Getting back to my situation, I realized this was a Very Big Deal. And so came the hard part: the Sophie’s Choice. Which of my many ideas was the one most worth spreading?

As I attempted to sort and evaluate and cast off, it felt like I was abandoning parts of me. And then I remembered an idea (NOT one of my own) that I had let go of many years ago, when Teamability® was in its infancy. It was the idea that people are made of parts and pieces, and can be understood as discrete systems. This letting go happened in a New York City diner while I was trying to explain the essence of teaming by comparing it with a plate of fried eggs.

I realized that point in my life had truly been a turning point, and so I chose it as my idea for TEDx.

Naturally, I turned to my team. They shaped and formed it. And they shaped and formed me.

I hope you find ‘Timing Isn’t Everything. Teaming Is.’ to be an Idea Worth Spreading, and that you do just that!

Team Well and Prosper!

DrJ

* Big hugs to the Richie Etwaru and the TEDxBedminster team & attendees, Glenn Zimmerman and team (www.madbearproductions.com), video coach Laura Walton (www.trustwinning.com), designer Jamak Khazra (www.bluesuitsonline.com), and the TGI team who made this possible!

May I?

I grew up in New York City, specifically The Bronx. (Yes, that uppercase T is part of the official name of the borough that’s at the top right of the NYC map.) There, at a certain age, we played a street game called ‘May I?’ It involved making a creative request to move forward by hops or skips or steps, and accepting an alternative order from the leader. But first, you always had to ask ‘May I,’ or you would be sent back to the starting line.

Well, unlike my young colleagues, I didn’t do well at this game. I enjoyed the creative part, but would forget the ‘May I.’ Still, it was a good experience for a pre-entrepreneur, or a pre-rainmaker, or anyone who would eventually have a greater need to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

But still, there is a cosmic question for which we all need an answer:

When should I start with ‘May I?’ and when can I safely fly into action?

After a lot of thought, and asking a few wise folks what they think, I have concluded that it comes down to one key point: Where does the other person draw their personal boundary line? If you stay outside that line, the ‘May I?’ is optional. But once you cross that border, it’s an imperative.

So, how do you apply this to the creative arts of business?

Just remember that although you have a pretty good idea where your own boundaries are, and you have an idea about the other person’s boundaries, you just don’t know where they really draw the line. Therefore, it’s best to get their permission before launching into your pitch. This leaves a lot of territory in which to introduce yourself via a topic that is related to your ultimate intention, in hopes of encouraging them move their boundary lines just a little closer to you.

And one more point, if I may…

A great deal of that open territory is actually inside your own space. That’s where you can get creative with your questioning, and where you can give yourself permission to move ahead. And that’s how you start becoming great at selling anything from grand ideas to Ginsu knives. Because the first person you have to sell… is you!

Yes, you may. And yes, you can. It’s all your game to play and win!

Happy May!

Three Ways to Fail at Managing Teams

I grew up in a home where both mom and dad were active union members, and it gave me a clear message about working life: there is labor, and there is management. Labor’s job is to make stuff happen. Management’s job is to oppress labor.

I was fine with that worldview for a long time. But eventually, I grew up and, somewhere along the line, I became management. I even got to like being management. The funny thing is that my parents, the union loyalists, are the ones I have to thank for that. Here’s why: they didn’t just teach me that oppression was a bad thing. They also made me realize that it can be just as bad for the oppressor as it is for the oppressed.

Oppression is the hallmark of bad management. It’s the butt of Dilbertesque jokes about pointy haired bosses and evil functionaries, and it’s the bane of workers at all levels of organizations. Typically, oppressors are actively engaged in doing what they do, so it’s easy to vilify them for committing crimes against the workplace.

Sins of commission by management are many. Sins of omission are few, but they can be every bit as demoralizing. Here are three that I will address ad seriatum. (That’s Latin for, ‘I’m going to do this one at a time, because hitting you with all three, and no breaks in between, would be seriously uncool.’)

First, there is failure to observe. You might remember something like this happening early in your working life. It happened to Stacy on the very first job.

The team had a serious problem. Stacy was new, and bright, and identified a solution. It was simple, and it would have worked, but the manager couldn’t see it. Boss only saw Stacy, barely 21 years old, too new to know the score, and without a resume to provide credibility. Being laughed at and chided for offering such a naïve opinion was deeply humiliating, and to this day Stacy is reluctant to make suggestions.

Second: failure to nurture. Ari works as an analyst in the innovation department of a huge maker of scientific products. Ari applied three times for the company’s ‘high potential’ program, but the manager never followed through, and Ari was passed over each time. Ari is creative, smart, and well liked. The manager is not. Did the manager feel threatened, or was it just laziness? No matter. Ari has given up.

And third: failure to acknowledge. And herein lies a particularly sad story. Morgan has been in a supervisory position in a critical function of an organization for over two years. If you ask the team members, you’ll get nothing but glowing reports. But the manager gives no recognition, or support, or praise of any kind. Morgan feels unliked, weak, and fearful of job loss. Despite having opportunities to leave, and to move up, Morgan stays. Why? Because Morgan is there to serve the team and does not give up easily. And also because, in leaving, the team would no longer have a shield from the icy chill of the boss’ indifference.

Many failures are just learning experiences, but the failure of management to team well – as exemplified here – causes real damage.

So, if your work experience resonates strongly with that of Stacy, or Ari, or Morgan… or their managers! – then beware. When leaders fail to team, they eventually lead a business to fail.

You want ‘Team Chemistry’? Start with Biology and Physics!

Forbes’ publisher Rich Karlgaard drew a line in the sand when he launched an article entitled Teams Matter, Talent Is Not Enough. And then along came the brilliant research of Adam Grant, set forth in his NY Times best-seller Give and Take. Dr. Grant proved that, contrary to a particularly nasty old adage, nice people frequently finish first.

I see these two writings (and waves of commentary along the same lines) as the beginning of the end of the ‘hire-only-the-best-and-brightest’ era. For the longest time, hiring has been all about talents, traits, skills, education, and experience. Now, we’re returning to a more complex and enlightened place in which the way a person ‘teams’ is gaining attention and awareness for its critical value.

People speak wistfully about ‘team spirit’, as if it were a kind of magic spell that could be cast by only the most enlightened of leaders or coaches. Now the phrase ‘team chemistry’ is coming back into vogue, and that’s a lot closer to the truth. Teamwork does indeed embody chemistry.

Not ‘I like you” chemistry. Real hard-science chemistry, and biology, and physics.

Biology has given you some inborn drives. One of them drives you to learn and master your world. Another drives you to connect with other people. Put the two together and you get the basic reason humans form teams. Including, by the way, that most basic of teams: the twosome.

Physics, which is essentially the science of how stuff works, explains a lot about the way to build a physical structure (or infrastructure) that won’t collapse when an earthquake or tornado hits. Think of what that takes. Strong parts connect with other strong parts in a very strong way. (Okay, that won’t get you an engineering degree, but it’s at the core of building anything complex. And you can’t have a team with just one person, right? You’ve got the drift, right?)

For the moment, let’s just focus in on that ‘very strong connect’ part. In human beings, that’s called interdependency. It’s what causes us to lean on each other and not topple over when bad things happen – like economic tremors causing our employer’s ‘Richter scale’ to register above 4.5.

So, just to review before we get to the midterms…

We have people with fundamental biological drives, which vary. (We can measure that variance, thanks to a new ‘team science’ that applies to any team in any kind of organization.)  And these drives operate within the framework of a team, and fundamental elements of teamwork, which follow the rules of physics.

Now we’re ready to tackle chemistry.

Even if high school or college chemistry is just a faded memory for you, you might be familiar with the principal of valence, aka covalent bonding. Or (depending on when you went to school) molecular orbital theory, which begat modern valence bond theory. No matter the name, or the level of detail in scientifically explaining how atoms form molecules, valence is about attraction. The most important thing you need to know about attraction between two entities is that it happens because there are physical forces that come into play to balance out an unstable imbalance. This creates ‘completeness.’

When you understand the teaming energy that is inherent in each person on the team, then you can predict how they will handle adversity, change, or just plain old stress. You can also predict the focus and drive they will apply to the fulfillment of a team mission. In the language of Teamability® these attributes are called ‘Role’.

Ready for team chemistry? Here’s the formula:

In humans, ‘completeness’ happens on a team after you get the right biology, e.g., people motivated to do something big with a team, into the right physical configuration.

Since each Role exhibits a complementary (balancing and energizing) influence on one other Role, add only the Roles that are most appropriate to the team’s mission, and introduce them all to each other so that each can find their ‘Role-pair’.

Then step back and watch the sparks fly!