Archive for the ‘happy at work’ Category

Take the Bus to be Happy at Work

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

After his first dinner as head of the Catholic Church, the newly selected Pope Francis rode the bus to his hotel with the all the cardinals instead of taking the car specially prepared for him.

We learned that Francis flew economy from Buenos Aires to Rome, he kept his silver cross in lieu of a new gold one, and he carried his own luggage and paid his bill at his hotel himself. When asked by reporters why he did all of these things, his spokesperson said, “Pope Francis would like to set an example of how members of the clergy should behave.”

I think we’ve forgotten the power of setting a good example. I know very little about the new Pope yet I already respect and admire the man, and not just because he’s the Pope, but because he’s visibly living his beliefs.

I think we underestimate the power of acting in line with our beliefs as compared to talking about our beliefs. As the saying goes, it’s easy to talk the talk. But, it’s important to walk the walk. Especially if you’re a manager or in a position of authority, your actions make an impression on others. A junior employee checking out of a hotel and paying her own bill? It would be noteworthy if she didn’t do this. But, a senior manager bringing a coffee for a junior employee—stop the presses! Setting a good example can be as simple as getting someone a coffee. Every good example doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. In fact, sometimes a small action can have a big impact.

Several years ago, I was the CEO of a business that had a lot of challenges. Each day I had one meeting after another, with very little unplanned time. One day, when I was walking between meetings, one of my managers, Dave, asked me if I was eating lunch that day. As it happened, I didn’t have lunch plans, so Dave invited me to the baby shower of someone on his team. “Sure, Dave, why not?” Dave and I went to Daisy’s shower along with the rest of his department. We admired all the little baby clothes and ate cake and after an hour, returned to the office. It was fun, especially since it was spur of the moment.

Imagine my surprise a year later, when Daisy told me that she had decided to stay with our troubled company because I had taken the time to attend her baby shower. “Denice, I was really worried about the challenges we were facing and I was concerned I would lose my job,” she confided. “I had another job lined up, but when you came to my baby shower, I thought: ‘How bad can the business be if the CEO has time to come to a baby shower?’“ I had no idea at the time the impact that my spur-of-the-moment gesture had.

Sometimes even small actions, like getting coffee or riding the bus, can have a big impact. So, if you’d like to be happy at work, get on the bus. I promise you, you’ll enjoy the ride.

My story… in just over 3 minutes

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

I recently made a video about my book with richerview. It was so much fun to try to capture my story and  the essence of Nantucket with talented people who can translate words into film.

I can highly recommend the process: try to summarize something that is important to you and capture it visually. Why? Because as you do this, remarkable things appear–insights into what is truly important to you and even better, what you can leave on the virtual “cutting room floor.” In the end, whether it’s a professional video as I had the good fortune to make or one you capture on your own video camera or a slide show of your favorite pictures–I promise you, the pictures will be worth much more than 1,000 words.

Watch my story here.


Connecting in a disconnected world

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

How do we connect in a disconnected world?

I realize that I am not the first to address the communication challenges of today, when we’re all connected 7/24 and via a multitude of electronic devices—PDAs, tablets, laptops—the list is endless. While offering convenience, these devices also keep us tethered like electronic dog leashes. And, like the dog on the end of the leash, we have a limited range of motion and minimal human contact.

There are many tips for managing one’s electronic arsenal. But I won’t address those here, other than to mention one technique that I find very successful: I shut them off. Dazzling.

Instead, I’d like to talk about a different phenomenon I’m seeing that I think is related to the pervasiveness of personal communication devices. Increasingly, I see extreme reactions to direct human contact. When I make what I think is a small gesture of human kindness, the response is overwhelmingly—and I think disproportionally—positive.

Here’s one example. Recently I was the after-dinner speaker at a senior management class at Siemens. My talk was about what it means to be a senior executive at our company. In other words: how to be a good leader. I knew four of the 30 folks attending the class and beforehand I memorized the other participants’ names so that I could respond to everyone personally. One of my strongly held beliefs about leadership is that good leaders invest in the people around them. In this case, my investment was to learn the names of the folks attending the class.

During pre-dinner drinks, I walked up to each person and introduced myself, addressing them by name as I said hello. Most folks were wearing name badges, but a few were not, yet I still addressed them by name. Silence. The people standing around us were astonished.

After a buffet dinner, everyone sat in a circle in a large meeting room.  I made my remarks, and then opened the floor to Q&A. Most of the people were too far away from me for me to be able to see their name badges, so gradually, everyone realized I knew their names.

It was a transformational moment. Yes, I know this sounds a little odd. In my ten years at Siemens, I have spoken to at least 30 such classes. Each time, I memorized all of the names before I arrived, and each time, it was clearly appreciated. But this time was different; I could really see that it had a big impact on the participants.

While I was happy my gesture made a positive impression, I also had the nagging sense that this was a little sad: I was getting way too much credit for something I think all leaders should do in similar situations. I thought about it in the car on my way home and came to the conclusion that people found my action so remarkable because we’re increasingly disconnected on a human level. Although we’re über-connected electronically, I would offer we’re more disconnected from other people than ever before.

Connecting with people, having an impact, even a small one, makes me happy at work. Try it. The next time you are in a seminar or workshop or some other similar situation, try to learn everyone’s name before you go. Yes, it takes some time, but we all learned how to memorize in school, so this is not a new skill. It takes me about an hour to learn 30 new names and faces. (Flashcards are my friends.) I guarantee that people will appreciate the effort and that you’ll be rewarded well beyond your investment.

Never doubt the impact you have

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I believe that we all want this to be true. We want to know that what we do leaves a mark beyond the proverbial footprints in the sand. I want to know that my actions will leave a lasting positive impression, even if it’s just for one person, in one fleeting moment.

You see, when I was a little girl, I was pretty sure I could be president of the United States. I guess I have been aspiring to have an impact since I was six! As I grew up, I stopped wanting to be president. (I actually wanted to be a ballerina, which was, frankly, more of a stretch than being president…) But even though neither aspiration came true, I never lost the desire to have an impact and to make a difference.

I am not naturally drawn to public service, so I will never run for office or seek a life in the public eye. My source of creating impact has been work. I need to know that what I do at work has created positive change along some dimension of the business. And, the one I personally get the most satisfaction from, is creating positive change for the people I work with. I measure my personal success by whether the people who work with me are better off, by their definition, than they were before they worked with me. This can range from helping them take a next step in their career to something as simple as giving them advice on a project they are working on.

What’s true for you? Do you think you’re happier at work when you know that what you have done makes a difference? Or said another way, are you unhappy at work when what you’ve done appears to be ignored or unappreciated?

Another aspect to this for me is not to “do the big thing” that gets recognized and rewarded by the masses, but rather, to pay attention to what others around you may be quietly doing—and to recognize the impact of their efforts. A simple “thank you” can have a huge impact on someone who was previously an unsung hero. Think of how great you feel when someone unexpectedly recognizes your work—this is worth multiplying.

Quick! Add it to the list!

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Does running around like a headless chicken make you happy?

Doing a lot of things at once is not inherently bad, but I find that adding to my list of open tasks usually frustrates me and on my really bad days, overwhelms me with the feeling that I can never get anything done. And, does speed increase the number of things you get done? If you add more and more things to your To Do list, do you try to do each one faster? Or, if you’re like me, does it mostly increase the number of things you are doing at one time?

It reminds me of a pilot joke I heard years ago.

“Folks, this is the captain speaking. I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that we’re lost. The good news is that we’re making really good time.”

There are days when I am 100% certain I am the captain of Going-Nowhere-Fast Airlines.

As I’ve said before, I love ticking stuff off of my To Do lists.

I have learned to fight the urge to try to race through my open items. The list is the list and each action will take as long as it should in order to get the outcome I want. It took me a long time to realize that adding more things and trying to race around to finish them neither improves the outcome or gives me a sense of satisfaction of “job well done.”

Learning this has helped me a lot, especially at work. As I’ve said before, no one dies with her Inbox empty.  So what do I do? Each morning, I create a list of what I think I can reasonably get done that day. At the end of the day, I take stock: did I do what I had planned that day? Or did something else sidetrack me? Was I too ambitious? The funny thing is, I rarely run out of To Do items before I finish my workday. On my good days, there might be only one or two things left open. I leave the office vowing to be more realistic the following day because nothing’s better than a completely checked off To Do list.

And by the way, I make this vow every day. I am sucker for hope!

Riding the wave of inspiration

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

As you can see from the infrequency of my posts, I am not a prolific writer. I have a lot of admiration for people who can write something meaningful every day.

At this moment, I am in a Starbucks in Huntington Beach, CA hoping inspiration for a blog will magically pop into my brain or at least stroll by.

Fat chance.

The only things strolling by are surfers heading to the beach—but as far as I can see, the waves are, at best, about 2 feet high, it’s 55F and cloudy—so I’m not about to get inspiration from people facing off against the raging ocean and conquering towering waves.

But, on second thought, maybe I am.

I would guess that 9 out of 10 surfers that I have seen this morning are older than 60 years old. And it’s cold, by southern California standards; I’m wearing a coat and wool scarf. As the waves are so small, I also guess that the surfers will do a lot of waiting around, sitting on their boards out in the ocean. How much do you have to love something to sit in a cold ocean, in gloomy weather, hoping for one great wave to ride to shore?

To me, this is inspiring.

People doing what they love, even when it’s not easy or as rewarding as they would hope. People who show up, day after day, because this has meaning for them—they get satisfaction from the “doing” and not just the outcome.

On some level, isn’t work like this? There are a lot of days of “just showing up” and doing what needs to be done. Not every day at work can be a red-letter day when you win a big customer or complete an important project. So, maybe one of the keys to being happy at work is to find inspiration in the day-to-day events. I’m not saying that you should settle for sitting on your surfboard, gently bobbing on little waves. I’m saying that when we can find inspiration and satisfaction in the actions we take as well as the outcomes we achieve—this can make us happy at work and in life.

Surf’s up! Cowabunga!

Frustrated? It’s OK …

Friday, November 25th, 2011

On September 7, 2011, I read the following quote from Simon Carr in the International Independent newspaper:

“A boss of mine once said: ‘I’m 40, never been fitter, playing the best squash of my life; the pro at the RAC is nearly 60 and he never takes more than two steps in any direction and I’ve never got more than three points off him in a game.’ “

We all know people like the club squash pro Carr describes—the people who make difficult things look easy. The people who, no matter how hard we might try to accomplish the same task, seem to float through it as if no human effort is required.

I hate these people.

My first reaction is: if I am struggling with something, I want you to struggle too. “Misery loves company” is the battle cry of the frustrated, for a reason. But, once I’ve considered it for a few minutes, do I really? If it’s possible, wouldn’t I rather hand over a challenging task to the person who is really, really good at it? Is my ego so fragile that I believe I need to be great at everything I do, including at work? Luckily, no, it’s not.

You see, we’re all “the squash pro” in some context and, I would offer, we’re each the player who can only win three points against the pro. We can let this situation frustrate us: “I can never, ever win against the pro!” Or, we can seek out opportunities where our talent and expertise thrive and bring us tremendous satisfaction.

The key for me, when I am frustrated or annoyed by some task, is to do two things:

  • Find an expert to assist with the task.
  • Remind myself of something I’m good at, so I don’t let frustration overwhelm me.

Neither of these things makes the frustration completely disappear, but at least I keep it in context and my unhappiness is short-lived.

Every voice should be heard

Friday, November 18th, 2011

“The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except for the best.”, Hope Will Find You: My Search for the Wisdom to Stop Waiting and Start Living, Naomi Levy

I was recently on vacation in Italy with my husband Michael and his siblings. Michael and I love Italy, particularly Tuscany in the north, and each time we go we enjoy it a little bit more. Its charms sneak up on you as you discover a new vista, small hilltop village, little restaurant, or ice cream place. (Better known as gelato in Italy, or as I call it: heaven in a cup!)

When I am somewhere this magical, I like to read something a little different that is more oriented towards self-improvement. I don’t try to master a new skill, but I am inspired to diverge from what I would characterize as my normal reading: “work, plane or trying to fall asleep” reading. Even better, I like to read about other people’s journeys of transformation, which is what Rabbi Levy’s Hope Will Find You is about.

But, this blog is not about her amazing book, which I highly recommend, but rather to reflect on the quote:

“The woods would be very silent if no birds sang expect for the best.”

This quote struck me. I started thinking about its implications, and I as often do, how it related to my work. I was intrigued as to why this quote made such an impression on me, as there are many insightful passages in Levy’s book. And then I realized, it had an impact because it connected with one of my core values about what I believe it takes to be a great leader: every voice, regardless of whose it is, should be heard. It’s easy to be happy at work when you work for a great leader.

Especially at work, I think we get intimidated to speak up unless we think what we’re about to say is “the best.” I’m not sure what it is that keeps us silent: fear, effort, the risk of looking stupid or just laziness and lethargy. But, I find myself in more and more meetings where people are silent and I think this is a tragedy. As a skilled facilitator I can overcome this: I call on people and ask for their comments. But, I can’t help think about this quote—think of how silent the world would be if only the best birds sang.

Aren’t you happier at work when you know your voice is being heard? If you were a little bird in the woods, wouldn’t you sing? It wouldn’t matter if you were the best singing bird in the woods, you would sing away. I would offer that speaking up at work, instead of taking the easy path of remaining silent, would give you more satisfaction than sitting in the audience waiting for the Lady GaGa of birds to launch into song.


Friday, September 30th, 2011

If you’re someone I admire, please come sit next to me. I could use a little time breathing the same air as you.

Most people I know admire people who are out of reach—Mother Theresa, Derek Jeter, Lady GaGa—to name a few and I do as well. We all have role models who inspire us. And many of us admire “the usual suspects”: our parents and siblings.

Over the years, I realized that I also admire a lot of people I work with. It starts with attraction and no, I don’t mean in a creepy want-to-have-sex-with-you kind of way. I meet someone new at work and there’s a spark that gets my attention: either from what they say, or their demeanor, or their personality. Something intrigues me about this person, and as we spend more time together I often find that the initial attraction turns to admiration. I turn into a groupie.

Usually it’s not the people at the top of the work hierarchy whom I admire. Most of the time, it’s the folks who are in the lower ranks of the organization. Let me give you an example. I have a colleague, let’s call him Sam, who’s five years out of college, so he’s just beginning his career.  Several years ago, he started a project to build a healthcare clinic in one of the poorest regions in the Amazon in Peru. In effect, this is his hobby. At the risk of sounding like someone’s grandmother, when I was Sam’s age my hobby was watching TV.

I’ve thought about why I admire certain people at work. Maybe I’m attracted to qualities that I know I lack, but I think it’s simpler than this. I feel good when I’m around them. It’s like I’m hoping that some of their character will rub off on me if I sit next to them at a meeting. I also like seeing their impact in the moment we’re together.

Why am I writing about this? Simply because it’s one of the things that makes me happy at work: I like spending time with people I admire. I walk away from these encounters feeling better: energized, motivated and just… happy.

Making choices

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

This week I was speaking to a colleague who has made a significant life choice in respect to her job: she’s following a new path and will take a brief sabbatical before starting on her new direction.

It’s actually an old direction: she’s going back to the work she loves. She’s been working for years at a very lucrative job, but it’s not the work that she aspired to many years ago.

“You can’t imagine how relieved I felt when I resigned,” she said. “I thought I would feel a little scared as I don’t have a new job yet, but I have only been happy since I resigned.”

“Did it take you a long time to decide to do this?” I asked.

“Yes, several months. When the idea first popped into my head, I didn’t take it seriously. Over time, I realized I had a choice to make.”

This conversation reminded me of how I felt six years ago when I left my job. I was exhausted, and overwhelmed every day. Simple day-to-day activities seemed to take Herculean effort. But once I had made the decision to leave my job—once I had made a choice—I felt better, even though I didn’t have a new job in the pipeline.

I am a big fan of making a decision, even if it’s difficult. It was great to be reminded that choosing is better than waiting: very few decisions improve by waiting. Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the time that you need to carefully consider important life decisions. But once you’ve done this, I have found that waiting to decide something is never helpful. I think that people wait on big decisions because they’re afraid of making a bad decision. Years ago, I gave myself permission to accept that not every decision I made would be the best decision in the end. I believe that you make the best decision you can at the time with the information you have. If you have new information later that changes your decision, then change your decision. I can’t emphasize this enough: don’t beat yourself up for the earlier decision; you made the best decision you could at the time, with the information you had.

Decisions are about choices and I have learned that you can choose to be happy. You can choose to make decisions that make you happy. This is a great choice.