Archive for the ‘motivation’ Category

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.

That Albert was one smart guy

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle and the other is as if everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein

I love this quote.

I love this quote for two reasons: I get both hope and acceptance from it at the same time. Hope, because who wouldn’t want to have a miracle in their life, in whatever form it takes? And acceptance, because it tells me that the ordinariness of today is the true miracle of my day-to-day life.

You see, one of the hardest things for me to do, still to this day, is to “be here, now.” I think a lot about what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or next month… you get the pattern. I think many of us, not just me, find ourselves waiting to be happy. By focusing so heavily on the next event, I am missing the miracles of my day-to-day life.

But, what if you asked yourself: am I happy in this moment? Could this moment be one of the miracles of my life? If not, what would it take to make me happy? What would it take to make it miraculous?

I get that life is made up of many, many unexceptional moments. Standing in a security line at the airport, grocery shopping, folding laundry: the list is endless. But, for someone else, these things might be their miracles. Think about the soldiers coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan who now have lost limbs—any of the mundane things I just listed would be tiny miracles for them.

When I think of it this way, then old Albert seems even smarter to me.

And what does any of this have to do with being happy at work? Well, if you’re not happy in life, then it’s pretty tough to be happy at work. It’s easy to extend my question above to work: am I happy at work in this moment?

Either way, let’s make it a miracle.

Think about it

Monday, June 20th, 2011

If your happiness and your work aren’t the same thing, you’re doing the wrong work, or working the wrong way. Change.—Martha Beck, Daily Coach Tips

I like Martha Beck. I think she’s smart. I’ve read several books that she’s written and have been following her column in O, the Oprah magazine for years. About a year ago, I signed up for “Martha’s Quote of the Day” from her website: and the quote above is one I got last week.

It seems like a pretty obvious statement, but then I thought about it longer than thirty seconds. When I left my job in 2005, I was working the wrong way and I was certain—mistakenly, as it turns out—that I also was doing the wrong work. I discovered during my sabbatical that one of the root causes of my misery was that I was working the wrong way and I didn’t hate my work.

If you’re unhappy at work, I would ask you to consider whether you might be working the wrong way. First, you have to define what “wrong” is for you.

I believe most of us work at things we’re good at. And if we’re good at something, then I also believe that it makes us happy on some level. The actual work itself is probably not what makes us unhappy at work. As I get older, I discover that more and more the “how” has a bigger impact on me than the “what.” I love my current job: chief diversity officer for Siemens AG. I dislike my travel schedule: I flew around the world four times in the last 14 months and some months I’m away from home 25 nights out of 30. While I always enjoy being somewhere new, I hate the travel it takes to get there. No matter how many tricks I employ to distract myself—the packing, unpacking, standing in line, getting on the plane, getting off the plane, traveling to the hotel, sleeping in a strange bed—all adds up and not even the TV series Bones on my iPod can distract me from the indignities of today’s travel. But, travel is just one component of how I do my job and without it, I would not have the experiences that I love. For example, I just spent four days in Russia and had amazing experiences that I will always remember. The trade-off is worth it at this time. Maybe at some point, it will not be worth it—I’ve learned that as long as I periodically review what makes me happy (and unhappy) at work I can change as I need to, before it becomes a crisis.

I would encourage you to think about what Martha’s quote means for you; it’s a great way to discover what could be causing you to be unhappy at work.

Learning to sit still

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

My husband and I are on a “forced vacation” this week. Now, before you imagine dark forces holding guns to our heads and shouting “Relax, damn you!” in our ears, let me explain.

We had to postpone our summer vacation last year because the weather forecast showed that Bermuda was about to be hit by two consecutive hurricanes. While I am as fascinated by the fury of storms as much as the next person, I would much rather watch them on the Weather Channel, not from my hotel room.

The hotel let us postpone our vacation for six months, so here we are, in February, sitting on an island in the Atlantic, where the temperature is around 60 F. It’s definitely not the vacation we had originally planned.

Here’s the funny thing that’s happened: this is more relaxing than I would have imagined. We’re reading books, taking walks, leaving the TV shut off and just … relaxing. I am spending hours a day sitting still. I didn’t realize, until just a few days ago, that I even needed some time off. It’s amazing what a few days of not racing from work, to the grocery store, or to the airport, can do for me.

As I said in an earlier blog, time off from work actually has to be time off, not time spent working remotely. But what never occurred to me before now is that I need really take time off—with no responsibilities other than to decide which books to bring along.

For me, this means getting away from familiar surroundings. If I’m home, or even on Nantucket, I look around and see all of the little chores I want to do. While I get a sense of satisfaction by checking items off my To-Do list, it’s not restful the same way sitting still and doing nothing is.

So what does all of this have to do with being happy at work? (more…)

Finding happiness in unexpected places

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

I attended the Time CNN Fortune Global Forum conference in Cape Town, South Africa at the end of June. The focus of theconference was the potential for economic growth in Africa.

It’s the first time I have been in the same room with people who are important historical figures, such as Francois Pienaar, the captain of the 1995 South African rugby team, Mrs. Graça Machal, human rights activist, and President Clinton.

Each person was mesmerizing and captivating in his or her own way.

As I attended each presentation, and met other attendees during the breaks, I found myself talking about all sorts of things not directly related to my work. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed this until I was telling my husband Michael about the conference.

“It was amazing and a little bit overwhelming,” I said. “At one point, Mrs. Graça Machal came up to the group I was standing with and put her arm around my shoulder. I felt like I was getting a hug from history.”

“And, the women at this conference,” I continued. “They were spectacular. The African women especially—each one is making a significant difference in their country—by creating economic opportunities with a focus on social justice.”

For the three days of the conference, I thought very little about my work. Yes, everyone I met asked me what I did. This was the only “work” activity I did for three days: I did not worry about catching up on e-mails or working on my open projects. I decided to just be in the moment and this had a very unexpected outcome: I came back to work so motivated to do more.

Let me explain it this way: as I met people who were clearly impacting the world, not just their company, I realized that the impact of my work was also important; that having an impact mattered to me. Will I impact the world the same way as Mrs. Graça Machal or President Clinton? No. To be honest, that’s never been my aspiration. But doing something that matters is important for me to be happy at work and to be happy as a person.

This insight came from going outside of my day-to-day work. I can only encourage you to go outside of your own work to be happy at work.

Lesson from an in-flight movie: do better

Monday, June 7th, 2010

I flew from Munich to New York last week and during the flight I watched “Invictus,” the movie about Nelson Mandela’s presidency and the 1995 rugby world cup in South Africa.

In the movie, Morgan Freeman, playing Nelson Mandela, tells the story about attending the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He said that they played a song in honor of him and South Africa and when he heard this song, he was very proud to be South African. He said it inspired him to go home to South Africa and “do better.”

I know that when I strive to do better—at whatever I’m working on—I am happier.

For example, I am inspired to do better when I am working together with people I value and respect.  It motivates me to go the extra mile, even if I’m tired or think I have nothing more left to give.

What (or who) motivates you to do better? And I would also ask you this: who do you inspire to do better?

In my life, I have had three extraordinary bosses. The one trait that they had in common was that every time I met with each of them I left the meeting wanting to do better. We would review open topics and often, troubling challenges and problems. Our meetings were focused on the tasks in front of us. They never explicitly said anything motivating, however, somehow it snuck up on me. I always left the room wanting to do better.

We often think of motivation and inspiration as playing a role in big, important events—such as Nelson Mandela’s inspiring leadership in bringing an end to apartheid in South Africa. But I also think you can make these topics personal—you bring them into your day-to-day work life by trying to do better, every day and by inspiring those around you to do better too.

We all want to get an “A”

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

I have a friend, Drew, who has autism. He’s nearly 22 years old and has graduated from school. Drew has had many part-time jobs in the last couple of years and he likes going to work.

He recently started a new job bagging groceries at a grocery store near his home. Drew is a funny, charming person. Let me give you an example: when I heard about his new job I bought him a pen as a “congratulations on your new job” present. I bought the pen in Germany and when I sent the pen to Drew I explained that the pen came from Germany. Drew sent me a thank you note and he had drawn a picture of a dog on the note. It was cute. I said thank you for the picture of my dog and Drew’s response was, “it’s a German shepherd because the pen came from Germany!”

This job was different from the jobs Drew had in the past; he did not have a buddy at work and while everyone at the store was very kind to him, there wasn’t one person looking out for him. Drew was learning how to bag groceries and he did a good job but he was slower than a more experienced person. Some of the customers did not have a lot of patience. We all know the feeling—going to the grocery store is a chore and we just want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Drew improved every day and wanted to do his best.

Drew had worked at the store for a week when he got his first paycheck. His mother shared this story with me and I would like to share it with all of you because it really struck a chord with me.

Drew brought home his first paycheck and the paystub was on the kitchen table.

“Mom,” Drew said, “Did I get an A?”

His mother was confused, what was Drew talking about?

“My report card,” he persisted, “Did I get an A at work?” (more…)


Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I will be speaking about “Falling in Love with Work—Again” on Saturday April 24th in Nantucket.

I often speak to groups of people about the themes in this blog and my upcoming book, but this will be my very first time to speak to the public on just this topic. Most of my prior speaking engagements have another topic as their core and being happy at work is not the focal point of the talk. I also usually speak to captive audiences—people from work or at conferences where the participants share a common interest. Having said this, I truly believe that nearly all work topics that I speak about—leadership, building a career, setting goals—have to be anchored by being happy at work. But this is the first time that “being happy at work” is the feature performer!

Cool! Terrifying!

As with anything new, I am both excited and a little nervous. When I talk about being happy at work, I get a lot of positive reinforcement, such as: it’s a timely topic, many people will identify with it, tips for being happy at work are always interesting. Still, it’s a new and very public path for me, so wish me luck!

The event is open to the public and admission is free. It’s April 24th from 3:00 to 4:00 PM at Hendrix Hall, The Unitarian Church, 11 Orange Street, Nantucket, MA.

Stop judging

Monday, April 12th, 2010

I attended Easter Mass and one sentence from the priest’s sermon struck home:

Stop judging.

It was like seeing an explosion of color before my eyes while I was watching a black and white movie.

What’s your immediate reaction to the word “judge?” My instant reaction is negative: to me, judging implies criticism. It implies “not measuring up” to some criteria.

I considered how I judged something. To judge something meant I had to have an opinion about whatever it was. To have an opinion, I had to compare it to something else. And, since I was judging something, it meant the comparison was usually unfavorable.

I took the priest’s words at face value and added my own build: stop judging and it will eliminate a lot of negative energy. This can only be good. (more…)