Posts Tagged ‘encouragement’

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.

I Don’t Play Professional Football, so How is a Sore Knee Related to Being Happy at Work?

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Every day some new body part hurts. Not a lot, but enough to get my attention. As I write this, it’s my right knee and my lower back.

I don’t why this stuff hurts; it’s probably (ugh) age-related. I don’t remember something aching every day when I was in my 20’s. Fortunately it usually feels better as the day goes by.

I think work is like this.

No matter how much you like your job, there are probably “pain points”: little aches and annoyances that get your attention but don’t really slow you down (or at least not too much). For example, I’m currently in a location where I couldn’t connect to my work’s email system using my computer and my BlackBerry only got a network connection 50% of the time. Big Fat Hassle. (Maybe this should be a blog about expectations—don’t we expect technology to work everywhere, every time, and all the time?) Amazingly, staring at the network icon on my BlackBerry did not cause it to magically connect, so after the first day of this fundamentally useless behavior, I adapted. I turned on my BlackBerry; if it had a network connection I briefly answered the urgent emails. (Seriously, who types long answers to emails on a BlackBerry?) If there’s no network connection, I gave up. Giving up eased the pain of not being able to do what I wanted to do at that minute. It’s like my aching knee; I don’t know why it hurts. I will adapt—no jogging today—and tomorrow, we’ll see. I don’t know why I don’t have a network connection 100% of the time, but I can’t change it. I can only change my behavior in response to it.

When I think back on many of the pain points of my work, I realize three things:

  • The majority of the problems were temporary, and ended within a bearable period of time.
  • I could compensate for whatever was bothering me by changing my own behavior; I didn’t need someone else to fix it for me.
  • While some days might be pain free, more often than not there would be some amount of pain every day.

Let’s be clear: I am not talking about “broken leg” pain—that would not be bearable or something I could fix myself. I’m talking about meetings that start at 7:00 AM (who does this?) or a deadline that means working late the night before.

Besides the fact that today I am fixated on my sore knee and lack of a network connection, why am I writing about this? Simply because: I have been much happier at work since I realized that I will not be happy or “pain free” every minute of every day.  I have accepted that there will always be certain annoyances that I will have to deal with, but simply by accepting this fact, my frustration has actually decreased.

Plus, think about how good it feels when the pain is gone. Like most of us, I don’t truly appreciate the absence of pain until something hurts. But here’s the good news—unlike my body, I have found that the opposite is true about work—as I get older, I can keep the pain at work in perspective and I can be happy even if something makes me temporarily miserable. I’ve learned that I don’t need to break my leg to appreciate that it’s not broken.

No network connection? Sore knee? Aching back? I get an ice bag, read a book and give it a little time. It’ll get better.

Crying at work makes me happy

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Crying at work makes me happy. Odd? Weird? Wrong?

I often cry at work. I don’t really like to, but I know that it’s as much a part of who I am as my eye color.

You see, I cry when I am inspired. People inspire me. People at work inspire me. I think we are surrounded, every day, by ordinary people doing extraordinary things, including at work.

Let me give you an example. I was recently in a hotel in Birmingham, England. The bellman, James, who I guessed to be in his 70s, was kind and gracious as he escorted me to my room. We chatted about the weather and the hotel. If you were to call Central Casting ask for a normal, down-to-earth person, they would send James.

“Denice, do you have a job where you work with people?”  James asked me as he made me a cup of tea. (I was in England, after all.)

“Yes, James, I do.”

He went on to add, “I think working with people is great. In fact, I believe I was put on Earth to do this job.”

Inspiring? Absolutely. Without a doubt, this was a special moment. Here’s why: like many of us, I look up to people who have a huge impact on the world. I admire presidents, astronauts and scientists dedicating their life to improving life on the planet. In reality, these are two-dimensional people because I will never know anything about them except for what I see on the news. But, in talking to Phil, I met a normal and dare I say, average human being, and at the same time, shared an inspiring moment that has stayed with me for many days.

This brings tears to my eyes. And, I often have these moments at work. My job brings me into contact with such a variety of people, from CEOs to accountants to factory managers to receptionists. And yes, I am inspired by spending time with CEOs—they lead businesses, create powerful strategies and successfully navigate the complex business world. But, I can be even more inspired by the “average person.” And, when I get inspired, the emotion that washes over me brings me to tears.

In these moments, I can feel my pulse quicken, my breath shorten and my eyes fill with tears. I cry.

So, if you’re like me and crying is your response to emotional situations at work, what should you do?

I acknowledge my reaction and explain it. Amazingly, once I acknowledge it, I usually stop crying. Let’s be clear, I’m not sobbing. My eyes are filled with tears, and my voice is a bit shaky, but I am not a soap opera actress finding out that my future husband is my long-lost brother. I find that people, in general, are very understanding. They appreciate my candor, and often, compliment me on being honest.

And, in the end, I give myself a break. I accept that crying at work is not my best corporate behavior, but because I cry when I am inspired by people’s amazing stories, I would not change my behavior for all the political correctness in the world.

Go ahead: inspire me, and pass the Kleenex.

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.

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.

“Firsts” are fun!

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

I achieved a big personal milestone this week, I published my first book: Falling in Love With Work, a Practical Guide to Igniting Your Passion for Work.

I am in Munich for two weeks and the author’s proof copy caught up with me here. I opened the envelope and held it in my hand and was speechless: here’s a book I wrote. A book. I wrote. In my hand.

I am officially a writer! Though, having been writing for six years now, one could suggest I was a writer before this moment. I’ve been writing, electronic publishing and blogging for over a year. There’s something, though, about holding a book you’ve written in your hands. It’s cool as heck.

I flipped through the pages, looking at the familiar words, and found my mind wandering back to other “firsts” in my life. I realized that a lot of my notable, personal “firsts” were a long time ago. I remembered my first marathon, twenty-five years ago, the first time I traveled outside of the US, twenty-six years ago, the first time I flew on a plane, thirty-five years ago—and for me, publishing this book is on par with those events. It’s funny—I’ve had many, many professional “firsts” in the last thirty years, and all of those were important, but they’re not the ones that sprung to mind as I reflected upon what this first means to me. I wonder if we become accustomed to firsts at work? My professional firsts are as important to me as my personal ones, so why are the ones that first sprung to mind the personal ones from twenty-five years ago?

I probably won’t figure this out by the time I finish this blog, so I am going to just enjoy being happy about my book! This is a great feeling and I will remember to transfer this feeling to my work “firsts” in the future—they’re as much about me as a person as this book is, and now I have even more opportunities to be happy at work.

We’ll be updating my website in the next week or so with the information about where to find my book. If you’re interested it’s available now on, and

A simple gesture

Friday, December 24th, 2010

On December 15th, I hosted an all day meeting in Munich, Germany for 150 people at Siemens. None of the people attending report to me, they are all volunteers who have a passion and commitment for the topic we share. Each one of them has a very demanding “day job,” so attending this meeting required putting their own work aside for up to three days (because of travel) to participate.

The meeting had two objectives: to thank this group of people for work they have been doing for the company for a particular subject and to inspire them to do more. To achieve these objectives, we brought in three outstanding outside speakers who are world authorities on their topics: Frans Johansson, Mahzarin Banaji and Michael Gold.

Each of the speakers were spectacular; the first one raised the energy in the room beyond my expectations and the following speakers added to it—all in all, a very successful day.

The attendees came from more than 34 countries and my team took care of all of the logistics, arranging hotels, organizing transportation and frankly, any request that made the trip easier for our guests. This was no small effort and we got many compliments on how well organized the meeting was. I work with a team of little rock stars!

In addition to the program, I wanted to do something that showed each of the attendees that I appreciated their contributions to the company. I knew I would try to speak to each person on the day, but I wasn’t sure I would have time to speak to each one personally.

So, I wrote each person a note by hand, thanking him or her for attending the meeting and saying that I was looking forward to spending the day with them. This took several days; each card took a few minutes to write, multiply this by 150 and in total, I spent about three days writing all of the cards. I looked at it this way: the trade-off of my time was small compared to the time each of them invests in our mutual topic.

Many people were astonished that I did this.

“Denice, I have to tell you—I looked at the note to see if it was printed on a computer to look like it was handwritten,” said one colleague. I could only smile—imaging software that fakes authenticity.

“I promise you, if this was true I would have picked a software that improves my hand-writing,” I replied, laughingly.

This simple gesture had an impact beyond my expectations.

Why am I sharing this with you? It’s a reminder: something simple can have a big impact, especially if it says “thank you” and recognizes people as individuals. I knew folks would like the notes, and be surprised by them, but I underestimated the impact it would have. I thought about it after the meeting and I realized that when you work for a very large company, it’s easy to get a little lost. A simple but personalized gesture can help make even a very large company seem more like a family.

This makes me happy at work.

Giving and taking credit

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

In my new job, I often host events—meetings, discussion groups and the like. Sometimes I invite folks to events that are more social in nature, like a breakfast or cocktail party.

I recently invited a group of senior women in our company to a cocktail party. They were all attending another meeting and the idea behind the cocktail party was to hold a networking event to take advantage of their presence at the bigger event.

It was so much fun! This was the first time this group had met each other and the energy in the room was spectacular. At one point, I stood to the side and watched the participants talk, laugh and connect with each other—I was happy we organized it. And at the end, each attendee thanked me, genuinely pleased to have been invited.

“Denice, this is such a great idea. Thank you so much for the invitation,” said one participant.

“You’re welcome,” I replied. “But, it wasn’t my idea. It was Rosa’s.” I couldn’t take the credit for this—it would have made me feel terrible. I was getting all the thanks just because I sent out the invitation.

Rosa asked me later why I gave her the credit for the idea; she was really OK with me taking the credit for it. And, I understand this—very often it’s important that the team takes the credit for something and not single out one person on the team. This wasn’t one of those moments; she deserved the credit.

During our work life, we are so often in this position—when a success is attributed to one person, when in fact it may belong to another. This makes me unhappy at work. Not just because it’s unfair, though it is. It makes me unhappy because you miss something really special when you don’t give credit where it is due. And it also causes mistrust between colleagues—how much can you trust someone who deliberately takes credit for something you’ve done?

Rosa was slightly embarrassed as I kept telling everyone who thanked me that it was her idea. I thought about her reaction later and I understood it. Being part of a team is drummed into us; it feels awkward or uncomfortable to take sole credit for something.

But, if you’re the person who deserves the credit, my advice is: take it. You earned it. Be proud that you’ve done something that’s worth getting the credit for—and when it’s your turn to give credit to someone else, remember how good it feels to be recognized for doing something well. It also strengthens the bonds of the team when you support each other in this way. This is a great way to be happy at work!

Ask an unexpected question…

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

I met 10 colleagues I had not met before at Siemens Southern Africa. As I travel the world in my new job as chief diversity officer, I will meet new colleagues that I would not normally come across in my day-to-day work.

Folks walk into these meetings a little apprehensive because I do not specify an agenda or topics before our meeting. There’s nothing for them to prepare. Here’s why: we are all very task oriented and we rarely have 30 minutes during our day or even our week when we simply talk to someone. Every discussion, every meeting—well, at least the good ones—have objectives, goals and expected outcomes.

I’m not suggesting we should depart from this behavior: they’re important elements of working efficiently and effectively.

But, I work better when I get to know the person sitting across from me. I ask, “What motivates you?” I leave it up to the person whether they want to focus on work or life topics. This doesn’t mean that I need to know everyone’s deep, dark secrets. I’m not a big fan of “too much information.” I do want to know what motivates someone, though. It’s fascinating to me to learn why someone does what he or she does, especially at work.

Guess what? Most folks love to be asked this. This surprised me. I did not realize it was such a radical question, until I observed the reaction it got when I asked it.  People’s faces light up and they visibly relax. Sometimes I ask it another way: what makes you happy at work? I think the positive reaction is because they know they can answer this, they can get an “A.”

I encourage you to try it sometime. Ask an unexpected question, just be prepared to answer it yourself! (As I will do in an upcoming post.)

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.