Posts Tagged ‘motivation’

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.

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.

“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

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…)

Even the best people need encouragement

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

A few years ago I was on a flight from Bangalore to New York, traveling with Fred, our company’s chief financial officer. Fred is one of the best people I have ever worked with, he is a talented and dedicated leader and I was lucky to have him as my partner. But on that flight, Fred was discouraged and exhausted from all our recent hard work and because he believed that our team was not 100 percent with us and that we were not making enough progress. I empathized with his frustration, but I did not share his point of view. I realized that I had to help Fred. As he slept beside me in the window seat, I wrote six presentation charts about what it meant to be a leader in our company. I highlighted our values as a company, and my personal values as a leader. When Fred woke, I showed him my charts and told him I knew that—together—with the rest of our team, we could achieve amazing things. He smiled and I saw him regain his spark.

The qualities that enable topnotch people to perform at their best can also mask the fact that they are also human beings and they need encouraging too. The folks who perform at extraordinary levels, day after day, always appear to be so self-sufficient, as if they’re running on Energizer Bunny batteries. It did not occur to me, until that moment, that Fred might need encouragement from me. Why didn’t I know this? Didn’t I also need to have people recognize my efforts? Yes, I did. We all do.

This was a great wake-up call for me and I now make a conscious effort to recognize the extraordinary performance from the folks I trust and rely on and to never take them for granted.

Rule 1: do what makes you happy

Friday, February 26th, 2010

If there could only be one rule about how to stay happy at work I would say it is: don’t forget to do what makes you happy.

I know this sounds simple, but I find it isn’t. All jobs have stuff that’s urgent and we often let this dictate our priorities. We keep pushing the things that are personally rewarding to the end of our To Do lists.

Our company holds management classes for people from all of our divisions and this week I was invited to speak to a class that was focusing on leadership. It was after dinner on day two of the class. The setting was informal—thankfully no PowerPoint charts needed—and I opened with a few top-of-mind remarks about my thoughts on leadership. Then we were off to the races! I spent the next two hours answering the participants’ questions. They asked me lots of great questions and it was just fun—for me, there’s few things more fun at work than spending time with folks discussing a topic that I am very passionate about—leadership.

Why am I sharing this with you? It’s hardly unusual that someone speaks to a management class within the company.

I was exhausted when I left my office to travel two hours to this event. I could have laid down on the floor of the conference center and gone to sleep. I have a million urgent things on my plate right now—and I could have easily used the six hours this took to tackle my never-ending To Do list; I have e-mails breeding like rabbits!

I knew this would be the situation when I committed to do this event. But, I also know that this is one of the top three things that makes me happy at work—I love the energy I get from being with the folks that attend these classes because it takes me out of my day-to-day work. During the couple of hours that I am with them, I am present just in this moment. I have to be—they’re all very smart and I have to pay attention!

I always get more out of these sessions that I put into them, even when I have to juggle my own deadlines to fit it in. So, even though I knew it would be very hard to carve out the time to do this, I remembered what makes me happy at work and I did it.

I drove home at 11:00 PM and I was happy that I did this for myself—and it reminded me that I have to keep me motivated and happy at work.