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!

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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.

The Downside of Power

Ok I’ll admit it: I like power. I like to have it, I like to exercise it, I like it a whole lot. And I even like the responsibility that comes with it.

Sometimes it gets me places I didn’t think I’d ever be going.

Take powers of attorney, for instance. I’ve had a few in my life, especially from relatives who trusted my judgment in an emergency. That’s usually when good judgment is needed, so that the emergency can be addressed without a detailed think-through of potential consequences and if-thens and maybe-buts.

But now I have an emergency of my own, and it has a lot of moving parts. I need to construct a whole end-of-life scenario for someone dear who can’t.

As you get down into the details of something as delicate as this, there are tough decisions to be made. Sometimes basic values apply cleanly. Sometimes they don’t. My usual approach to this kind of ambiguity is to look for situations that are somewhat similar and use them to identify an answer.

That’s how I got to thinking about how end of life is very similar to end of job – also known as termination, downsizing, and outplacement. Having made this connection, three guiding principles came into view. They are:

  1. Maintain a ‘least restrictive’ environment.

In the healthcare world (particularly mental health) this means allowing the person the latitude to do what they need or want to do, as long as it doesn’t compromise their own, or other people’s, safety. For the end of lifer with a cognition-limiting diagnosis, it means no tying them down or stopping them from eating as much ice cream as they want.

Comparably, in the employment world, it means that when you’ve decided to fire someone, don’t pile on a terrible evaluation or otherwise spirit-damaging experience on the eve of their impending separation.

  1. Make the transition as painless as possible.

In the healthcare world, I am talking about paying attention and taking action to ease pain, boredom, or distress, in whatever manner that drugs, comfort accommodations, and/or companionship will be effective. Because anything that takes the mind off doom dwelling, at least for a little while, is a blessing.

In the employment world, I’m saying that when people are on the way out, even if no one really likes them, please provide the courtesy of a farewell lunch or cake and/or group card…whatever. It feels lousy enough to have been cut from the team, especially when you enjoyed and appreciated the job. Don’t compound the pain by omitting the niceties.

  1. Avoid false hope, but be sympathetic.

In the health world, this refers to the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order. Helpful staff people usually want those who have power of attorney over someone’s final days to sign the DNR yesterday. Any reluctance to do so is generally met with an air of suspicion. (Fear of liability is apparently as strong a motivator to action as, say, a tiger loose in the lobby.) Since this was the most difficult principle for me to define, I tried out a lot of scenarios from other fields. Again, comparison to the world of work was the most enlightening.

In employment world, termination is very much like a DNR. There’s an order stating that a person or persons have to go, and usually the person who carries out the order isn’t the one who made the decision in the first place. (Think about that for a moment. The power of attorney holder is not the one making the decision that the person will be let go. That decision takes place at a higher level, so to speak.) Primarily for this reason, it’s important for the bearer of bad news to depersonalize the whole process. Sad to say, many do a great job of the depersonalization part, but of the rest, not so much.

What if, instead, we made it clear that at least one person in the room really wanted the soon-to-be-departed to stay? In the health world, that would involve an effort to connect at the very end, as a sort of social resuscitation. In the employment world, it could be as simple as adding one small word of regret by the terminator.

Will you ‘love people out’ or will you just leave them behind?

You have the power to choose.