Is your world ending? Shouldn’t it?

It’s November 21st and, according to the folks at this website, the end of the world may be upon us just one month from today. If you are a student of Nostradamus or the Mayan administrative assistant who quit work before finishing the calendar project, you may be stockpiling canned goods as we speak.

But for those of us not on the 12212012 bandwagon yet, perhaps we should take notice.

Are you strong and healthy?  Are your relationships supportive and mutually satisfying? Is your work gratifying and meaningful to you?  Do you experience moments of joy?  Are you living a purposeful life?

If not, perhaps you should end your world as you know it.

I work with folks who are stuck.  Stuck in a soul-sucking job.  Stuck feeling unmotivated, unengaged and unappreciated.  Stuck in a battle they are fighting on the way up the down escalator.  The first step is to want something better.

Augusten Burroughs, author of “This Is How”, wrote about contemplating suicide.  When he explored what he wanted to accomplish through his death, he writes: “I realized something. It wasn’t that I wanted to kill myself. What I really wanted was to end my life.”

Each of us is accountable in this way.  Not only for acknowledging where we are today but where we want to go, who we want to be.

Take stock of where you are. What’s working?  What’s not?  Envision what you want.  Know you can have it.  Ask for help.  Make a change.  Take the leap.

When Rick and I were married twenty two years ago we chose for our wedding song: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” by R.E.M..  It was.  End your world and begin anew.  It’s scary, but it’s worth it.  And you can do it again and again until you get it right.

It gets worse before it gets better

You want to make a change.  You’re tired of the status quo.  You decide to take the leap.

You’re going to have that long overdue conversation about the relationship.

You’re going to leave your job for a career that truly aligns with your passions.

You’re going to improve your performance to meet management expectations.

And you will suffer.  And struggle.  And wonder why you bothered.

Change. It’s both sharp and slippery.  It’s exhilarating and exhausting. It’s enticing and repulsive.  And it’s not just our own.  Any change we make, by extension, makes others change.   And they don’t like change any more than we do.

Be clear. Be courageous.  Be patient. Persevere.


Road Rage and the Happy Bug

Our last house was located on a very busy street.  The first ten minutes of my commute to work was spent tensely poised at the end of my driveway waiting to catapult my car into the smallest break of creeping traffic.  This was tricky, because apparently this particular street had been reserved for people who had Very Important Places to be and therefore could not let anyone get into line in front of them.

300 feet down the road was the next hurdle: THE ROTARY.  A fun game for me to play each morning was deciding which rotary approach to take.  Option one was “Operation Passive”.  If I had the time, I would enter the rotary and then patiently count how many cars it took before one would acknowledge my right of way and let me through. If I was in a feisty mood, it was “Operation Aggressive” where I would brazenly course through, foot on the gas, actively asserting my “right of way” to the joyous cacophony of blaring (though misinformed) horns.  (Public service announcement: If you or someone you know slept through driving school and missed the part about how to drive in a rotary.  Click here.  Seriously.  CLICK IT!!!! And pay close attention to Step 5, I beg you.)

Anyhoo, another 500 feet or so was the high school.  Now back in my day, while I didn’t have to walk 10 miles, barefoot, in the snow, uphill (both ways) to school, I DID walk.  And so did most everyone else.  Either that or we took the bus.  At this same high school today, I think both parents drive separate cars to drop off each kid.  And it must be the only quality family time they get as evidenced by the ETERNITY it took them to exit the car and move on.

Finally, I was free to make my way to the highway.  Okay, deep breath, relax the shoulders.  GODAMIT WHY IS THAT GUY ON MY TAIL????? I’M ALREADY GOING 80!!!!  (Rinse, repeat)

And this is how I would arrive to work.  Every day.  Sometimes I was in a good mood despite it all.  Sometimes I was enraged.  Sometimes I was so rattled I couldn’t think straight.

As managers and as professionals, we need to be aware of our surroundings and how they impact us.  We need to be purposeful about what we subject ourselves to and how we can smooth the edges in our lives so that the important stuff gets the attention it deserves.  We need to be smart, alert, open and thoughtful in order to successfully navigate our way through the rapid fire environments we live and work in.

And we can’t do that if we’re constantly piqued.

I made some changes to my own commute.  Now, I pull out onto a quiet country road, pass the reservoir as the sun drizzles over the sparkling water’s edge and inhale the deep damp pine of the forest as I make my way to the highway.  I drive a VW convertible that makes me happy and makes others smile in spite of themselves.  My biggest worry (at least until I get to the highway) is whether I might hit a deer.

What changes can YOU make?  Get up earlier? Slow down? Say no? Play more?  Whatever change you choose.  You will not believe the difference.

And one final word: Do not underestimate the role of proper rotary management in achieving world peace.


Forget Positive Thinking

We’ve been beaten repeatedly about the head and shoulders in recent years to remember to “think positively”.  Woe to the team member who voices concern.  The trusty contrarian is now disdained and the nay sayers are summarily silenced.

Ironically, by squashing these Negative Nellies we are slowing down positive progress toward our most critical goals.

Research shows that our human brains are wired against change.  Introducing a new direction (information, competition, pace, etc.) causes a physiological stress reaction against the change.

The Value of Venting

Interestingly, one of the fastest ways to reduce the emergency brake effect of this stress reaction is to allow a bit of venting.  “What don’t we like about this news?” “What problems will it cause?”  “What can go wrong?” “Why is it stupid?” What may not have been taken into consideration?”

Our stress response is linked to survival.  Adrenaline is triggered which sets off flight/flight/freeze behavior.  At work this takes the form of the contrarian who fights back, the star team member who dusts off her resume to prepare for flight, the long timer who’ll bide his time, frozen in place.

Brain scan technology shows that just naming the threat – thinking it, saying it or, even more effective, writing it down – counteracts the threat response.  By giving credence to the stress factor and addressing it, we return out of threat mode and can enter a more rational state.

Once all the big bad stuff has been vented, we are in a physiologically more receptive place to ask: “How will we handle this?”

“You Popped the Zit”

Not a pretty visual.  But this is what a client said to me the other day to sum up the impact I had on her team.  We were recalling a session I had done for her staff years ago.  It was the first time we had worked together and it involved facilitating the identification of goals, roles and process across multiple sub-teams.

Festering Boil

The group had recently churned through layoffs, management turnover, reorganization and a merge with another division.  People were angry, frustrated, bitter, resentful, withdrawn and, in some cases, behaving badly.  As the Uncommon Consulting logo might imply, this is my favorite kind of assignment.  The snarlier the better.  This team had all the charm of a festering boil.

Bringing it to the surface

The program went well in terms of the communication of the goal, clarification of roles and responsibilities and having all 25 participants engaged in discussion about what was expected of the team going forward.  They weren’t necessarily happy but the goal was now clear, roles were marked out, grievances were aired and accountability was assigned.

Popping the Zit

Less than a week or so after the session, I got a call from the client to tell me that half her team had left – some voluntarily, others not so much.  She was now managing critical deadlines with a lack of critical staff.  Yeesh.  But wasn’t this a good thing?  The goal was now clear, roles were now clear…isn’t this what you’re supposed to do to make things better?  Yes.  And sometimes it gets messy and painful in the process – in the short term.  With a long term view, what you want is a team that is enthusiastic about that goal and those roles.  Engaged in how to do it better, faster, stronger, more.  Motivated to see the team succeed because they value the goal, the team and their part in it.

One guy

One of the guys that quit was one of several who had been behaving badly (disrespectful comments to manager and colleagues, refusing to adopt new processes, generally being fussy without filter).  He came to the manager with his resignation and said he respected her and respected how she was managing the team toward new goals.  He said the thing was, that it’s just not what he wanted to be doing.  So he said he was going to go find a place where he can do what he does best.

Hooray for the team.  Hooray for him.

Funerals for Fish

Valentine died.  We think he died yesterday although it may have been the night before.

We haven’t told the kids.

We also have not disposed of Valentine so he’s still in his bowl.  They haven’t noticed.

But we know they’ll be upset when we lovingly tell them about fish, and how sometimes they die and that a fish funeral involves flushing.

As leaders, managers and change agents we struggle with the need for fish funerals all the time.  And we often don’t handle them well.

Because we feel guilty that we didn’t take better care of the (project, relationship, process, performance)

Because we know that, even if the (staff, colleague, manager, customer) wasn’t terrifically involved, they’ll have a reaction that we’re going to have to deal with.

Because we’re not ready to decide whether we should revive, replace or bury the thing.

And although we know, rationally, that if we don’t do something quickly it’s going to start getting gross, and worse…

…we wait.

Management Lesson:

1. Take care of your fish.  If your fish (projects, relationships, processes or performance) are important to your business then give them the attention they require to meet your business goals.

2. If you are not taking care of your fish, ask yourself why and do something about it. Stop the project, repair the relationship, improve the process or manage the performance.

3. If a fish dies, deal with it quickly so that it doesn’t start to stink.  Communicate to all stakeholders early, often and transparently.

4. Just because the fish was only $4.99 and the kids like having a fish does not mean you should get a new one.  Evaluate your current business needs and determine what projects, relationships, processes or performance are required to support your goals now.  It may be time for a new direction.