Sunday, December 20, 2009

Random Acts of Kindness

I was leading a session for a government client earlier this week and they asked me to propose a special activity with a holiday theme to liven up their staff retreat. I suggested that they do a Secret Santa activity for the week leading up to our session.

You pick a name out of a hat and for a period of a week you are invited do an act of kindness for your colleague every day. The kindnesses can be anything from leaving a hot cup of coffee on their desk without being seen, to clearing off the snow from their car before they leave at night, to writing a poem in their honor or leaving chocolates or other treats where they can find them. The Secret Santa observes his or her colleague throughout the week to learn a bit more about who they are, and especially, find something that they appreciate about them. At the end of the week, the Secret Santas are unveiled during a special staff meeting. At the meeting, the Secret Santas share with the rest of the group what they have observed from their colleague and what they like about them.

My client loved the idea. It was something we could do without much preparation and with no outlay of cash (budgets are very tight these days!) plus, it would add a bit of holiday cheer to the workplace.

A few days before the Secret Santa activity was to begin, my client received a few long-winded emails and even some calls from staff complaining that they did not have time to deal with such frivolous Christmas activities on work time: five acts of kindness in a week was simply too much to handle in these busy times (although it probably took as much time as would be necessary to do 3 or 4 acts of kindnesses to write the long formal memos to complain about the lack of time but that is besides the point...or is it?)

My client compromised. In an email she said: "We understand that some of you are concerned about the time required to the Secret Santa activity every day for a week so therefore, we are asking that you limit your acts of kindness to only twice during the week preceding our staff retreat."

That seemed to satisfy the naysayers. They had made their point. Their discontent was heard and management had acted on it. So everyone limited their kindnesses to two times during the week. (Can you sense the cynicism and incredulity behind my diplomatic words?)

What is wrong with this picture? A lot! First, that we have to formalize an invitation for people to be kind to each other in the workplace is very sad indeed. Busy people do not have time to be cordial and kind to each other apparently.

Second, since when do we have to schedule time to have fun and be playful at work? Does this mean that real work only gets done in a formal, perfunctory, robot-like environment? Does this mean that we cannot afford to be living and breathing human beings at work and let our hearts and soul sing while we do our work?

Third, who are those scrooges who dared to complain that they were too busy with work to do an act of kindness for their colleague??? How long does it take so say thank you or open the door for someone or leave a candy on someone's desk? Perhaps we are so out of practice with being kind that these individuals felt like they had to do a lot of planning to do an impromptu act of kindness? I really don't get it.

In the end, people were thrilled with the activity (so much so that they have proposed doing a Secret Easter Bunny activity next Spring!) At the close the staff retreat, I asked everyone to come up in turn to the front of the room to describe what their Secret Santa had done. All of them expressed real gratitude for the kindnesses they received. They were touched by their colleague's thoughtfulness and caring. Once they were done, the Secret Santa revealed themselves and came to the front to join their colleague. All of them, without exception, hugged each other - can you believe that? Marks of affection in a workplace! Some would say that it is odd. I say it is heart-warming. It was now the Secret Santa's turn to say what they appreciated from their colleague. Here are some examples:

  • "Whenever I meet Mary in the hallways she always greets me with a happy hello and a smile."
  • "I like that John always delivers what he promises when he promised it. His work is very professional and thorough."
  • "You can go see Ghislaine if you need a little pick me up. She always finds something kind and positive to say. I always feel better after I talk to her."
  • "Richard is a big thinker. He is like a walking encyclopaedia. I love talking to him about new ideas."
Simple things huh? Little things are big things. Some would say that is all there is.

A lot of the Christmas movies seem to have a similar message. What makes Christmas magical is not the big ticket items under the tree or the gourmet food for Christmas dinner or the "bling" and designer clothes that you are wearing at the office Christmas party. What makes Christmas magical is that it awakens in us our humanity and our purpose "to do unto others what we would like them to do unto us."

At Christmas time, we are reminded about the abundance of things that we have and that we take for granted. At Christmas time, we are reminded that others are in need and we become more generous. We take the time to donate to Toy Mountain, the Food Bank, and World Vision or Care Canada. We make the time to volunteer at the soup kitchen or at the children's school fund raising activities. More so than any other time of the year, at Christmas time we feel that we can make a positive difference and we act on it.

The magic of Christmas is that love is free-flowing. And with love, anything can happen.

May you give and receive much love during this Christmas season...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Five generations of people side by side

I have always been fascinated by sociology, the study of human societies. Diane Pacom, a sociology professor at the University of Ottawa gave a wonderful presentation on the generational gap between today's youth and the older generations a few weeks ago.

Did you know that there are presently five distinct generations living side by side in Canada?

There are two million folks in Canada who are from the 1920's generation (1920-1929) who are now in their eighties. The "Roaring Twenties" or the "Jazz Age" was a period of prosperity after the first World War and it was also a period of changing morals. This period of our history is also called the "Lost Generation". Many good, young men went to war and died, or returned home either physically or mentally wounded (for most, both), and their faith in the moral guideposts that had earlier given them hope, were no longer valid...they were "Lost." "Lost" also describes the general feeling of discontinuity associated with a break with traditions. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, moving pictures and proliferated 'modernity' to a large part of the population. There was no television yet and even less computers or Internet...

There are 2.5 million Canadians who were born in the period of the Great Depression, the 1930-1939 generation. "What was once a land of opportunities became a land of desperation" to quote Bettye Sutton. Money was scarce. People were focused on survival instead of advancement. Authors have compared the Great Depression to the economic crisis we have experienced in the last year. Diane Pacom says that the impact of the depression on the 1930's youth was quite different. Today's youth define themselves by brands. You are ridiculed if you have an ordinary MP3 as opposed to an IPod. You are not cool if you wear department store brand running shoes rather than the latest Nikes. You are a "loser" if you wear your sister's hand me downs rather than the Lululemon sweatshirt or the Aeropostale t-shirts. So in a sense, the loss of income in this period of economic turn-down not only affected individual's capacity to attend to basic needs but it also undermined youth's sense of identity and self-worth. The 1930's youth fared better on that front.

The generation of the Second World War (1940-46) are also called the "Silent Generation". The "Pre-Boomers" as they are sometimes called, entered adulthood in the 1950s and benefited from ample job opportunities, rapid promotion and easy prosperity.

The Baby Boomers, people born between 1947 and 1964, are 9 million in Canada today. The Baby Boomers are the first generation of "youth" in humanity. Before them, a person went from being a child to a young adult in the span of a couple of years. Today you are considered "young" if you are between 14 years of age to 34 years of age. The boomers created our culture's fixation with youth. Today, there is a young way of dressing, a young way of talking and writing (e.g. rap, MSN and texting), a young way to playing (e.g Ipods, Playstations, Youtube, etc...) thanks to the marketing genius of Baby Boomers.

The boomers have desconstructed our world. The boomers declared that marriage, church, family, politics,... were OUT. But they have not replaced these institutions with any other traditions.

The Generation X is the last cohort of the Baby Boomers, born between 1961 and 1980. A National Post article published on February 27, 2007 declares that Gen X will change the work culture. The author, Ray Williams, describes the Gen X, as people who grew up with pet rocks, platform shoes and watched The Simpsons. "They question authority, seek bigger meaning in life and work, are technologically savvy, live in the present, are skeptical, see career as a key to happiness, are open to multi-careers, consider challenge and variety as being more important than job security and constantly aim to achieve work-life balance." Diane Pacom points out that today's politics is attracting Generation X people like Obama, Stephen Harper and Jean Charest. They are pushing for a return to strong values and traditions.

After the Generation X, the Generation Y is considered to be the echo to the Baby Boomers. These youth between 14 to 29 years of age number almost 7 million in Canada. They are are the "I" generation as opposed to the "me" generation. Diane Pacom explains that a "me" usually impliesa "you" but for the Generation Y people there is no "you", so therefore they are just focused on the "I".

According to Mme Pacom, they are the "enfants rois" (the royal children) - to whom everything is owed and everything is given (often out of guilt from parents who don't know how to be worthy of the title of "good parent"). This generation of children has been the most wanted. Every milestone was marked with celebrations and praise. They may carry a sense of entitlement about them and have an expectation of frequent positive feedback.

Teachers have coined a term to describe those children's parents: the helicopter parents. Like helicopters, parents of Generation Y kids hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not. The Generation Y children are sheltered. They grew up in a time of increasing safety measures (car seats, baby on board signs, school lockdowns). They were rarely left unsupervised. They were sheltered from having to take care of their own conflicts as parents advocated on their behalf, and “spared” them from unpleasant experiences

The Generation Y children are "trophy kids” and they feel pressure to excel. It is interesting to note that the Generation Y children have been identified in the school system as "gifted" in record numbers. In a typical week, those children juggle school, homework, band practice, soccer team / hockey team practice and singing lessons. For every "royal child" explains Diane Pacom, there are three excluded children. The children that have been diagnosed (and medicated) in record numbers in the last 15 to 20 years as having ADHD, anxiety, Asperger Syndrome or learning difficulties. Those kids who just don't belong in a world where you need to be "super" at something just to be noticed. Ordinary just doesn't cut it anymore.

The Millennial Generation are children born since 1996. These children were born in a high tech, high speed society. The Millennial children are more intuitive and more creative than older generations were at that age. They take to computers like a fish takes to water and have a natural understanding of technology in general that can border on the uncanny. They seem to have an understanding of the spiritual beyond their years and a matter-of-fact attitude toward the paranormal are often attributed to these youngsters. Millennials are on track to become the best-educated and best-behaved adults in the nation’s history. More comfortable with their parents’ values than any other generation in living memory, Millennials support convention – the idea that social rules can help. Diane Pacom says that these children are the most promising generation.

I believe that every generation has something precious to contribute to the next generation and important lessons to learn from the previous generation. As a parent of a Generation Y child and a Millennial child, I have to ask myself how can I give my daughters the space and the confidence to become who they are meant to be? How can I instil in my daughters a respect for older generations? How can I encourage them to be curious and appreciative for the wisdom older people have acquired in their lifetime?

I think that like many things in life you start small. A couple of weeks ago I asked my father who will turn 80 in March, if he would take me and my 13 year old daughter to his father's land in Quebec to cut down a small Christmas tree. On the way there, three generations of people, my daughter (the Milliennial child), myself (the Gen X'er) and my father (the Great Depression generation) were having a lively conversation about Christmas traditions and memories.

"What do you want for Christmas?" my father asks my daughter. "I want a tablet" she says. "You want a chocolate bar? (tablette de chocolat)" my father replies with surprise in his voice. "No, I want a computerized tablet on which I can draw my Manga characters and save them directly onto the hard drive so that I can color them in electronically and use them in video clips." she explains. "Ahhh. I understand. I didn't know that kind of thing existed" my father says with a bit of wonder in his voice. You see, even though my dad is from the Great Depression era, he fell in love with computers in his fifties and is very knowledgeable about them. Computers are one of his greatest pastimes. He makes the most amazing three dimensional birthday cards using graphics that he designs on the computer. He photo shops our pictures and attaches our heads onto characters that depict us in situations that illustrate a momentous event in our life. His creative interpretations of our lives always make us smile and tug at our hearts. In some ways, my father has more in common with my daughter when it comes to computers than I do. Instead of being a communication obstacle between generations, the computer bridges the communication gap in my family. Isn't that wonderful?

What are some of the bridges that you can help build between the generations in your family or in your workplace?

Check out this video clip on Youtube about growing old. Very touching.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

In pursuit of eternal youth

In 1960's-1970's there was a radical change in social order. The adults lost their power to make the rules, young people took over that privilege. So says Diane Pacom, a well-known sociology professor at the University of Ottawa and a frequent guest on Radio Canada, and the conference circuits. On Friday morning I attended her presentation to a group of University of Ottawa retirees entitlted "Quand le boom fait face à son écho" (When the boom faces its echo).

Mme Pacom started by defining what it means to be considered "young". Being young means that you are under tutelage, someone else decides for you. Being young also means that you are not responsible or accountable for your actions.

Before the 1960's there was no "youth" per say from a societal point of view. You were either a child or an adult. Puberty marked the beginning of adulthood. You learned your trade on the farm or in the print shop and once you mastered it, you went to work. My dad who was a child of the Depression years worked to support his family at the age of 11. His mother, Fleurette, married my grandfather at the age of 17 and went on to raise eight kids. It is unthinkable that kids that age would have those kinds of responsibilities in this day and age isn't it?

But in the 1960's all that changed. Society started on its pursuit for eternal youthfulness. As Diane Pacom said, in the 1950's young girls aspired to be just like their mothers - playing at being a mom and learning to cook and clean just like her so they could be somebody's wife some day. Nowadays, mothers aspire to be like their daughters, chatting with them about their dating experiences (since over half of them are divorced), dressing in tight jeans and revealing tops, and getting Botox injections to erase the passage of time on their face.

When Mme Pacom started studying the phenomenon of youth in the 1980's, youth was defined as a period of 10 years between 14 years to 24 years. Today, sociologists consider that youth is a period spanning 30 years (!) between 14 years and 34 years.

Traditionally there were five markers that defined the passage from youth to adulthood:

1. End of Studies:
The end of studies marked a time when you had acquired the knowledge and know-how you needed to go forth in the world and succeed.

In the early 1950's, you finished your secondary at age 17 or 18 and started to work right away. Rare were those who went on to university. Girls aspired to a job as a secretary, a hairdresser or maybe a teacher. When they got married, they left their "careers" to take care of the children. Men had a much wider world of possibilities when it came to careers.

Today, most kids go to college or university after their secondary school. Many move on to doing Masters and Phd's. The "end" of studies comes much later in life.

Thanks to marketing companies and the consumer society it created, we are in a perpetual state of not "knowing".

We do not know how to eat: Depending on the diet of the day we are told to eliminate fats, eliminate carbohydrates, increase the proteins, add olive oil and flax seeds. Toss the vitamins E you bought a few years ago, now you need to beef up your consumption of vitamin D. Do you think our grandmothers worried about these kind of things?

We do not know how to breathe: We need to take yoga classes to reacquaint ourselves with our breath.

We do not know how to walk: The Running Room is making a fortune with their "Learn to Walk" clubs

We do not know how to live. We need life coaches to hold us by the hand to help us figure out our lives.

Today, we are never finished learning. We feel incompetent and unsure. We are told that we need expert advice on everything and anything.

2. When you get married.

The Baby Boomers rejected the tradition of marriage. Sexual experimentation starts younger and younger (I read a stat recently that said that in Quebec for example, the average age of the first sexual encounter is 14 years old). Living with rather than being married to seems to be the preferred trend. And for those of us who do get married, half the marriages end in the divorce.

3. When you choose a profession.

In my dad's era, you chose a career and it was for life. My dad was a biologist for 35 years working for the same organization that whole time. (In his early fifties, he went back to school to get a Masters in Human Sciences but that is another story)

In my case, (I'm a 1960's child) I rarely stayed in a job more than a few years. Four years is the longest I stayed in one job in the same organization. On average, I change jobs every couple of years.

According to Mme Pacom, today's youth see life as non-linear and fragmented. They live for the present moment, moving from one thing to another following what is their current passion. There is no such thing as choosing a career. They choose to explore an interest and follow it until something else comes along.

4. When we leave our parent's home.

We call today's parents, the "boomerang" parents. They send out their kids into the big wide world but they come back, come back, and come back again. There are many 35 year olds living in their parents basements these days, sometimes with their whole family in tow!

5. When we start a family.

The current trend is that women have babies later in life, once their studies are finished and they are established in their careers. On average women have babies in their late twenties and early thirties and there are more and more women having their first baby in their forties.

Diane Pacom argues that all these markers of the passage of youth to adulthood have disappeared in our society. Adults have lost their legitimacy and their authority. Youth, or youthfulness rules today.

"What is the solution? What can we do?" asked a teary-eyed participant at the end of Pacom's presentation. "I think we need too bring back humanity in our superficial consumer society. We need to find our self-respect again. Once, as adults, we become self-assured, we need to find it within ourselves to also respect our youth." Youth want to relate to us as equals. They act as if they could not care less about what we think but truly, they need our guidance. We just need to find the door that will let us in.

Diane Pacom received the 3M Teaching Fellowship award as an outstanding educator in 2004. Together with nine other recipients, she spent three days reflecting on what were the key ingredients to being an outstanding educator. It came down to just one thing: "Love them. Love them in the holistic sense of the word. When you are spending time with youth, you need to be totally there with them, your body, your mind and your spirit. Don't pretend that you are spending quality with your youth by going through the motions and still being preoccupied in your head with your kitchen list of things to do. Just BE there."

What do you think about all this? How does this apply to the workplace as well?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Me? Have fun? You're not serious!

Imagine that! It's possible to learn while having fun.

In 1940 a fellow by the name of John Gallo was fired from his job at Ford because he was "caught in the act of smiling." This was his second offence. He had slowed down the production line by half a minute while he was laughing with his colleagues a few weeks earlier. Poor guy: two strikes (not even three) and he was kicked out! Henry Ford, the owner of the Ford car manufacturing company believed that "When we are at work we ought to be at work. When we are at play we ought to be at play. There is no use trying to mix the two."

We have come a long way since then right? Well, it depends... This Friday I had a call from a client from a federal government department asking that I help them design and lead a two-days team-building retreat. There had been a lot of folks coming and going in the last six months and they needed to spend some time solidifying their team. I suggested that we start off by exploring personality types as a way to build stronger relationships. "No! That won't do!" Said my client. "We are scientists and we have no patience for frivolous activities. We are serious people with serious jobs to do." I replied, "I must have misunderstood your objectives for your retreat. I thought that the focus of this retreat was team-building so that is why I suggested that we start the session with an activity that would help people better understand themselves and their colleagues in a work setting. How do you define team-building then?" She said: "It is really straight-forward. There is a lot of work to do and some employees are not doing their fair share. What we need to do is make a list of all the work that has to be done and decide who will do what." Hum... I thought. I beg to differ. Making a list of responsibilities and dividing it up amongst all the employees will not necessarily resolve the underlying human issue of people not feeling engaged and committed to their work... How do you explain that to a scientist? It is not black or white. It is a complex shade of gray.

But sometimes I do get to work in true partnership with a client who has the courage to do things differently, a client who recognizes that work can be fun and fun can lead to positive learning experiences (thanks Mary!)

Earlier this week, I had a wonderful time facilitating a session on leadership and effective team-work in Bathurst, New Brunswick. My client asked me to design a day of play, filled with interactive activities that would help participants explore the themes of leadership and teamwork. I was very happy to oblige. It was such a nice break from the usual requests I get from clients such as strategic planning sessions and national consultations on science priorities.

So I put my creative hat on and designed a fun-filled day of learning. In the morning, we did some storytelling to share personal stories of leadership and identify the key attributes of a good leader. In the afternoon, I created a half Survivor half Amazing Race challenge in which five teams competed. There were mental challenges like "Name That Tune" and "Word puzzles". There were physical challenges like a hockey competition and an odd (read yucky) food challenge. There were also creativity challenges like a treasure hunt with a twist.

In between activities, I would quiz participants on what they were learning about leadership. They were learning a lot as it turns out:

In the treasure hunt activity how did you go about finding the 30 items? Did you have a strategy? Did someone take the lead to organize sub-teams or did you all look for all 30 items at the same time? What worked best? What were some of the tricky's? What would you do differently next time? How would you translate what you have learned from this experience to a real life team situation in your workplace?

Daniel Pink, author of the book A Whole New Mind claims that the "right-brainers" will rule the future. The right-brainers are the creative thinkers. Pink outlines six fundamental human abilities that are essential for professional success and personal fulfillment. They are design, story, symphony, empathy, meaning and PLAY.

The importance of play in work, business and personal well-being manifests itself in three ways: games, humor and joyfulness.

Games, particularly computer and video games, are used to teach whole-minded lessons to customers. For example, in the late 1990's the US army was struggling to boost recruitment. After observing the new cadets' obsession with video games, the Army decided that the best way to reach young people was through their leisure activities on Sony Play Stations, Xboxes and personal c0mputers. The US army developed a video game called America's Army and released it for free on their Web site in the summer of 2002. The first weekend the demand was so great, that it crashed the Army's servers.

For those of us who have kids (and husbands) who spend countless hours exercising their fingers on computer keyboards playing video games, we should not despair. Research has demonstrated that playing video games can sharpen many skills such as an individual's visual perception, his or her ability to detect changes in the environment, concentration, problem-solving and even enchances productivity and job satisfaction.

Fabio Sala wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review stating that "Humor, used skill-fully greases the management wheels. It reduces hostility, deflects criticism, relieves tension, improves morale, and helps communicate difficult messages. A natural facility with humor is intertwined with, and appears to be, a marker for a much broader managerial trait: high emotional intelligence." (p.198-199, A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink).

Humor can be used positively or negatively in the workplace. Humor can be a cohesive force in a organization. As a facilitator, I am always encouraged when a group of people can laugh together because it usually means that team members have enough trust in each other to delve into difficult topics as well. However, humor, the black humor kind, can have the opposite effect. Rather than diffuse conflicts, black humor can reinforce workplace divisions and tensions and highlight workplace conflicts.

Joyfulness and laughter are social activities. There is strong evidence to show that people who have regular, satisfying connections to other people are healthier and happier.

People who can laugh together can work together. Laughter has more to do with relationships than jokes so don't fret if you are like me and often do not get the joke's punch line (It may be lost in translation: somehow when my French brain has finished translating the words from English, the funny part got lost along the way). If I feel comfortable with you, I am more likely to be myself and laugh along with you.

If you need more reasons to unbutton your starchy shirt collar and loosen up your tie (so to speak), research shows that laughing people are more creative and productive people. So what have you got to lose?

What do you say? Are you game (pardon the pun)? Can you find ways to inject a bit of fun and laughter in your workplace this week?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I am running out of time

Time. I don't have enough of it. I always seem to be running out of time no matter how much planning and multi-tasking I do...

I pride myself on being creative. And I have used this creativity many times to get a crazy list of responsibilities and errands done in one day. The internal conversation goes something like this: "On the way to dropping off my daughter to her part time job at 7:30 am on a Sunday morning (yep - no lazy mornings in this house, ever, it seems), I will drop off the overdue letters in the mailbox. On the way back, I will pick up some Tim Horton's for the rest of the family to speed up the breakfast routine. With the time I saved not cooking breakfast, I will sit at the computer and write my weekly blog. I should be finished writing the blog by 9:30 am and will go do my weekly 10 km run. On my run, I will take a detour to the video store to drop off the DVD's. When I'm back from my run, I will do a quick vacuum and clean up of the house before I leave to go clean up my mother-in-law's house who is too ill from the chemo treatments for her two forms of cancer to do it herself. On the way back from my in-law's, I will drop by the bank, return that item at the store and pick up my daughter who would have finished her shift at the cantine. That should leave me enough time to pack my suitcase and prepare my materials for my business trip tomorrow: I will be delivering three workshops back to back in three different cities in two different provinces." That is going to be my day today. Gosh. I'm exhausted just writing this down!

Yesterday, I had a booth at a Christmas Bazaar in a local senior's home. I make jewelery and Christmas decorations and I thought it may be a fun way to make a bit of pocket money for the Holidays. I was there from 7:30 am to 2:00 pm (a good chunk of time considering how hectic my life is these days) and I made a grand total of $34.00!!!! Not worth it at all. The bazaar was supposed to be open to the public and set up in the large commons room on the street level of the senior's home, but was relocated in the basement at the last minute. The only people that came, were the residents of the home. The only things that sold well were the hand knitted slippers, woolen shawls and the fruit cakes! It is almost funny isn't it?

I tried to see the positive side of things as I felt the anger (at myself) and disappointment rising inside of me while I was packing up all the unsold merchandise at the end of the day. "Well, it wasn't a complete waste of time. I met some nice people who do crafts like me. I did get to sit down and relax for a while..."

In the end, I think what that experience taught me was how our relationship with time changes with age. At the booth next to me, the lady who knitted all those slippers and shawls, (and made a small fortune selling them) kept saying to folks that knitting was a good way to pass the time. On the other side of me, there was a newly retired couple. The husband was there as moral support to his wife. He had nothing special planned for the day so he thought he might as well give her a hand. His wife said that making jewelery made the long days of February and March go by faster. She missed the hustle and bustle of her previous "life" as a decorator and designer for a big chain store so she found another way of expressing herself creatively through jewelery making. The elderly residents from the home came to the bazaar to pass the time. They said visiting the booths was a nice way to spend time on what would have been another long and boring Saturday.

All these folks seem to have too much time on their hands. Part of me was envious... I started wondering how I would feel when the kids have left home and I am retired. Given the speed at which I live my life now, would I be relieved and grateful for the extra time on my hands or bored out of my mind? One thing I know for sure is that I can't see myself being happy when buying a pair of woolen slippers is the highlight of my weekend!

So what do I take away from this experience? I really need to change to my attitude towards time.

When I was working full-time for government, I was crazy busy. In that environment, being busy often means that you are important and makes you feel indispensable. After some introspection, I had to admit to myself that being highly solicited flattered my ego. But my physical and mental health was suffering. I wanted more time. And more flexibility in my time. So I left government and started my own business. I have more flexibility now but I am just as busy, if not more. Why do I do this to myself? I just moved the problem around. I did not resolve it.

I want to take a long hard look at my relationship with time and make some real changes. My sense is that I will need to re-assess all the beliefs I have about time:
  • Time is money
  • I am getting older every day
  • You can play only when the work is done
  • Don't waste time doing "nothing"
  • How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives
  • No time like the present
  • You may delay, but time will not.
  • So little time and so much to do
It is 9:30 am. Time for my run. Got to go!

I think I could use a little coaching with this time obsession. Any suggestions?

Food for thought:

For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Power of Words

I came across an interesting article in the October 2009 edition of the Oprah magazine. The author, Tim Jarvis, makes a case for the importance of the words we choose to convey our message. According to Jarvis, one little word can sometimes make the difference between action and inaction, between resentment and cooperation, between argument and understanding.

Giving Constructive Feedback:

"How do you give feedback without ruffling any feathers? I know it is important to let my staff, or my colleagues, know how they could improve their performance but I shy away from it. Giving feedback is awkward and it could get me into trouble." Many clients have asked me for advice on giving constructive feedback over the years.

Here are some of my pointers:
  • Ask first: Don't assume that your feedback will be welcomed. The right thing to do is ask the person first if they would like to get some feedback from you. Get their permission and only then, proceed, with care.
  • Use the "Like, Tricky and Do diff" model: Start by letting the other person empties his or her "cup" first. The person knows what they have done right and wrong so let them share with you their own perspective of how they did first. Once they have emptied their cup, they will be more receptive to what you have to offer as feedback. Start by saying what you liked about what they did. Then move on to the "trickys". A tricky does not necessarily mean something negative. A tricky can be something that was unclear, or misunderstood, or something that was missing. Finish by making some suggestions for improvement by giving tips on what could have been done differently (do diff's).
  • Stick to the facts: When giving feedback try to describe in an objective way what you saw and heard rather than giving your interpretation of what you saw and heard. It makes a huge difference. One approach is factual and can be verified by other observers, the other is personalizes the feedback and much more difficult to defend.
  • Do it with care: Ask yourself "How would I feel if I were standing in his or her shoes right now?" Do unto others, as you would like them to do unto you.
  • Ask yourself why you want to give feedback in the first place: The only good reason to give feedback is to help the other individuals improve their performance. If you feel the need to give feedback to someone, make sure that your motivation is not personal. In other words, make sure that your desire to give feedback is not a disguise for your need to unload negative feelings.
  • Choose the right time to give feedback: If someone has just finished a difficult presentation that went sour, giving them feedback as they exit the room will backfire. They will feel attacked rather than supported. Give them some time to process what just happened and approach them when they are in a more positive frame of mind.
Jarvis' one word trick for giving constructive feedback:

Rather that saying: "You did a nice job BUT the report needs to be finished."
Try: "you did a nice job AND the report needs to be finished."

The "but" negates the first part of the statement no matter how positive it is. When people hear the word "but" they are just waiting for the bad news.

Help change someone's behavior:

People believe that they can motivate others to change their behaviors. That is a myth. You can't motivate someone. Motivation needs to come from the inside. I can't motivate you. You have to motivate yourself. All you can do as a "change agent" is create the exterior conditions that could motivate a change.

According to Jarvis, one of the most common mistakes we make is to ask the other person to change for your sake: "If you really love me you will stop doing behavior "X" or "Can you fix this for "my" sake" please."

Jarvis' one word trick to encourage someone to change:

Rather than saying: "You will stop smoking for my sake"
Try: "Will you stop smoking for the sake our kids' health?"

Your loved one may resent your wanting to change his or her ways and refuse to change to prove a point. If you put the focus on a third party removes you from the equation and appeals to their "ideal" self - the one that does the right thing for the right reasons.

Presenting a problem to your boss:

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years in the federal government of "speaking truth to power." Excellent concept in theory... On the one hand, we all want to do the right thing and expose the truth for what it is. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.

Somehow, it is much easier to talk about the irregularities and unfairness in our workplace around the coffee machine with colleagues. Complaining comes naturally to most of us. Blaming others is also a typical reflex. However it is quite another thing to actually tell the powers that be that something's got to change.

Jarvis' one word trick for speaking truth to power:

Rather than saying: "They have issues with the sales staff."
Try: "We have issues with the sales staff."

Replacing they with we can change your outlook and the viewpoint of others. Saying "we" suggests that we recognize that we are part of the solution to the problem.

Trying to make someone see your side:

Some words can be provocative. Once people hear certain words like "stupid", "dumb", or "un-professional" they stop listening to the intent of the comment. Instead, the emotions take over and their anger and resentment prevents them from understanding the intent of the message. Jarvis gives the example of a comment that President Obama made this summer when he was discussing the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr and said that the Cambridge police acted stupidly. That comment was inflammatory and created a lot of backlash.

Jarvis' one word trick for making people hear your message:

Rather than saying: "I know you wanted to surprise me, but changing our plans without warning me was stupid."
Try: "I know you wanted to surprise me, but changing our plans without warning me was not helpful."

Rather than labeling other's actions, convey the effect of those actions.

When I started studying coaching, my teacher recommended that I read the book by Dr. Matthew Budd entitled "You Are What You Say". Budd reminds us that the words we use create our reality. Words are like self-fulfilling prophecies. You get what you say you will get...

Have you ever noticed that?
  • When you tell yourself you are tired you feel even more tired and out of sorts.
  • When you repeat to yourself "I can do this", you usually can.
  • When you say to your teacher "I am shy", she calls on you less often to answer a question or do a presentation in front of the class so you become even shyer.
  • When you say to yourself "this will be a good day", it usually is.
This week I challenge you to pay attention to your words (often a reflection of your internal beliefs) and the impact they have on your everyday life.

I am curious. Please let me know what you found out

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Love Is All You Need

I tried to find an uplifting subject for my blog this week. I really did. But in the end, there was no way around it, I needed to express my sadness. This week my father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer and his wife, my dear mother-in-law, had a surgical procedure to biopsy a cancerous tumor in her lung. She had to be hospitalized two days later for complications from that procedure. A good friend's father was hospitalized in Montreal and passed away three days later. The artistic director of my Community Theatre Troupe sent us an email this week to let us know that the Christmas play would not happen this year - she suffered a heart attack and is waiting for heart surgery. After having known for over two months, a very special friend decided to break the silence and let me in - he told me that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma. That was my week. Lot's of sadness and worry. It sure makes you reflect on the things you take for granted like time for example...

How do you deal with all that bad news at once? How do you manage to keep your spirits up? How do you console your loved ones - those who are grappling with illness and those who love them and suffer along with them? What is it that I can learn from all this?

Yesterday there was a fund raising event at our local Shopper's Drug Mart. In exchange for a money donation to help families in need at Christmas, you got a free mini-facial and a makeup application. Lee, the lady who did my makeup was a beautiful woman in her sixties with a warm heart. I don't know why, but somehow the conversation shifted from what the new makeup colors were for this season to her life story.

She said she had a difficult week. Her 60 year old brother-in-law had suddenly collapsed on October 31 from an aneurism. He was at the peak of his career and had just signed an 11 years lease for a brand new office. Seventeen years ago, on the same date, his young brother had passed away. Their 91 year old mother had buried two sons in her life-time.

Lee had to travel to Montreal to help with the funeral arrangements and attend the ceremony. She was burnt out by all the emotions and activity and had collapsed in her bed at 8:00 pm the night before for a 12 hours sleep. I empathized with her. I was feeling burnt out too and had also tried to escape all this week's worries in a long fretful sleep. Then, before I could stop myself, all my grief tumbled out. I shared with this stranger all my sad news.

Lee held my hand and said: "Listen, in the space of 6 years my 18 year old hockey playing son was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and required complicated surgeries. Two years later I was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost my left breast. Two years later my husband, an executive with a federal government department, had a burn-out, sank into a serious depression and had psychotic episodes for which he had to hospitalized. There were many times when I did not think I could survive another day. But I kept going. Today it is all behind me and I am happy. God does not give you more than you can handle. The suffering makes you stronger. I believe that." Not only does it make you stronger but it makes you more attuned to others who are suffering. Lee is giving back. She volunteers her time as a makeup artist for the "Look Good, Feel Better" initiative for cancer patients.

Here we were in the middle of a busy store having a moment of privileged connection. We hugged and we cried. For that moment, we forgot where we were - all the bustling and the noise - and time stopped. Two strangers, fellow human beings, sharing sorrow and understanding. And then the moment was gone. We joked that we had to change the topic quickly or else all the hard work Lee had done to apply my makeup would go to waste. She retouched the makeup, I made my purchases and we hugged one last time. I probably will never see her again but that doesn't matter... I left the store feeling lighter.

I felt grateful that Lee had been on my path
that day to share her story. Human beings can be so incredibly resilient. We can get through the most difficult situations. It is a matter of persevering even when the going gets tough, believing that there is a bigger purpose, and most importantly staying hopeful. And of course, to quote the Beatles, "you get by with a little help from your friends"

When you really think about it "all you need is love" to get through those hard times . Even love from a stranger in a store can turn your world around. Thanks Lee!

The Beatles


From The Blue Album

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It's easy.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you
in time - It's easy.

All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
There's nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
It's easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
All you need is love (all together now)
All you need is love (everybody)
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What's love got to do with it?

As I prepared to launch my new business in September 2009, a friend who is a successful private consultant recommended that I read the book by Geoffrey Bellman entitled "The Consultant's Calling - Bringing Who You are to What You Do"

I have been reading this book with interest a few chapters at a time. One chapter in particular really spoke to me. Chapter Nine is entitled "Love at Work" and in it Bellman says:
"We all want love and our wants do not respect the boundaries of work. Many people show up for the money but stay for love. They assume they will get the money: they seek the love." p. 81

What are we searching for at work? According to Bellman, and I would agree, we search for attention, recognition, care, understanding, affection, glory, respect, appreciation, inclusion. In other words we are looking for small "L" love.

Bellman talks about a five-level hierarchy of appreciation which starts at the bottom with "KNOW" and culminates with "LOVE"

Love yourself first

Bellman recognizes that love of self is not necessary to achieve professional success, stature or recognition - though it can be helpful. He believes that if you want more enjoyment, abundance, growth and satisfaction, start by loving yourself first.

First you start by taking stock of what you think you know. This is harder than it sounds. This involves looking honestly at everything you believe in and checking within yourself to see if you are keeping an open mind to new information that could modify or even change what take for granted.

Through the knowing of yourself you can move to an understanding of yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses. What makes you tick? What are your fears? What are your most cherished dreams? Truthfully, in order to grow as a human being, we should always be working at understanding and redefining who we are what we stand for.

Even if we know and understand ourselves, accepting all of who we are can be a struggle. There are some parts of ourselves that are difficult to acknowledge. We are not proud of some parts of ourselves and would rather pretend they didn't exist. Carl Jung calls that hidden part of our persona the "shadow side". The shadow is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. "Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."

The next step in the hierarchy of acceptance is embracing all that we are: the good sides together with the darker sides. That's the goal. But the reality is that we embrace a lot of who we are while still distancing ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, from other parts of our selves. As we move forward in our journey as human beings it becomes easier to reach contentment and be at peace with who we have become, warts and all...

I don't know about you but as I grow older (getting closer to the "golden" years) I love much more of myself than I used to. We become less preoccupied with what other people might think of us and are more aware and appreciative of what feels good to us.

Loving others

Loving yourself opens you to loving others. Take a trip in your mind to your workplace environment. How would you apply that five-level hierarchy of appreciation with colleagues and bosses?

1. KNOW: You take time to get to know your colleague. You have a conversation with him or her and find out a bit more about their professional and personal background. You listen actively without preconceptions or judgement. You stay curious and open minded, willing to have your ideas and beliefs challenged and enhanced.

2. UNDERSTAND: You seek the meaning behind the knowledge you have gathered in your interactions with this person. You express some of what you know and ask questions to deepen your understanding of them.

3. ACCEPT: To accept someone requires openness, allowance and welcome. It does not necessarily mean to agree with everything they stand for.

4. EMBRACE: You embrace your colleagues ideas, emotions and issues simply because they are important to him or her. You show respect for your colleague by honoring what is meaningful to him or her even though you may disagree. If it is important to your colleague, it becomes important to you as well.

5. LOVE: You and your colleague are attuned to each other. You open yourself to the other person without fear of being judged. Neither of you need to change to satisfy the other. You have complete trust that the other person will act in a way that serves both of you well.

Many of us love our work so why would we not open ourselves to love the people with whom we work? As in any other relationship, the ascent of this hierarchy of appreciation is accompanied by risks but it also brings new depths to your partnerships with colleagues.

What do you think about Bellman's concept of "love" at work? Can you relate to it? If not, would you have the courage to try to be open to deeper relationships at work? What have you got to lose except missed opportunities to feel fulfilled and accepted in the workplace?

As for me, the concept of love in the workplace is very real. I have been blessed in my career. Through my work I have met wonderful people that I love dearly and are still part of my life to this day.

Thank you to all of you who have let me into your hearts and made my workplace a place of acceptance and caring:
Marie Anick

Sunday, October 25, 2009

One week

I watched the movie One Week last night. It enchanted me. It disturbed me. It provoked me. It stayed on my mind.

The movie opens with a scene in a doctor's office. Ben Tyler is a man in his mid-twenties. His doctor tells him that he has stage four cancer (terminal) and a 10% survival rate if he starts aggressive chemo treatments right away.

On his way home, he meets an older man who is reluctantly selling his vintage motorcycle. The man convinces Ben to take the motorcycle for a spin. Ben is delighted by the sense of freedom he feels as he rides the bike. He buys the motorcycle on the spot. On his way to tell his fiancée the bad news, he stops for a Tim Horton's coffee and rolls up the rim. It says "Go west young man." He sees this as a sign...

His fiancée pleads with him to start treatment right away but he replies that he needs an adventure before he is tied to an hospital bed. Ben hops on his bike and heads west. Where exactly? He doesn't know. For once in his life he has no plans. He lets his body decide when it is time to stop and sleep. Otherwise, Ben just rides and rides.

Many things are weighing on Ben's mind as he sets on his journey: Does he still want to get married? Why did he settle for a career in teaching? Why did he stop writing after his first book was turned down by too many editors to count? Why did he not pursue his love of singing?

What started as a couple days of aimless driving to escape a hard reality morphed into a week-long trek along the beautiful countryside of Canada. The vistas are beautiful: the Great Canadian Shield of northern Ontario; the grand lakes of Manitoba; the vast wheat plains of Saskatchewan; the breathtaking snow capped Rockies in Alberta; and all the way to the Pacific Ocean off Vancouver Island (British Columbia). As he travels the varied landscapes of Canada, he also takes an internal voyage of self-discovery.

Ben finds the answers to his life along the road. They emerge from within him as he contemplates nature or through seemingly ordinary encounters with people on his journey. He reacquaints himself with his own truth and he hears the wisdom in the words of others.

Eventually he comes back home to make peace with his fiancée. He will not marry her. And to let his family share his pain as he starts treatment. He has made peace with his life such as it is.

The movie ends with a black screen and these words: "To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield."

You know what I am going to ask you don't you?

If you just had one day or one week or one month to live what would you do?
  • What would stay the same?
  • What would you change?
  • Would you stay or would you go? Home bound or exotic trip somewhere?
  • What are the "undones" would you like to finish or accomplish?
  • What would you like to turn back the clock on?
If there are more things you would change than things you would keep it may be an indication that it is time to take a hard look at your life.

What are you waiting for to live the life of your dreams?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What's Up Doc?

There is a new show on TV that talks about health, and it is very popular. Imagine that. It is called The Doctor Oz Show. Have you seen it?

Last Friday The Dr. Oz Show featured a special on a medical mission in the city of Houston (Texas) - the largest non-disaster relief free health clinic. Over 700 volunteers, 200 doctors and 300 nurses provided medical care to over 1,780 Americans. On the show, Dr Oz introduced some of the patients with serious health conditions that they saw at that clinic.

We met a middle-aged man who had lumps in his neck and bloody stools for over three years. Being a typical "man", even though he was concerned about these symptoms, he never made it to his doctor to have a Colonoscopy. The man lost his job last Fall, and with it, his health coverage. Prodded by his wife, he came to the free clinic to get things checked out. The doctors who examined him were concerned about cancer. The producers of the show arranged for this man to see a specialist to have more thorough tests which determined, happy news, that he did not have cancer after all.

We met a young mother of five children who was told that her baby daughter had a hole in her heart. On the show, Dr. Oz introduced her to a heart specialist and a pediatrician who agreed to provide care for her daughter free of charge. Disney donated an all expenses paid trip to Disney World for the whole family.

We met a man in his forties who had a cancerous tumor on his lip that had tripled in size over the last few years to the point that he was disfigured and unable to eat properly. He just did not have the money to pay for the surgery he required so he let the tumor grow and grow. Because of his disfigurement he could not get a job which compounded the problem even more. The producer of the show provided him with a team of medical experts that would remove the tumor, do reconstructive surgery to repair his mouth, oversee his chemotherapy treatments, and give him the psychological counseling he required ... all free of charge.

I was fascinated. Fascinated by the stories. Fascinated by the relevance and depth of the medical information Dr Oz shares with his audience. He has a knack for simplifying complex health-related concepts and high tech medical procedures in a way that is easily understood (many doctor's I know could learn a few tips from him!) And I was fascinated by the fact that I was watching the show in the first place and really enjoying it, along with millions of other people.

Is it the reality show voyeurism thing that entices me to tune in? Or simple curiosity maybe? Or is it possible to watch something educational and good for me while being entertained? If that is the case, I think we are onto something big here. Maybe this is what the Sesame Street concept was built on: educational entertainment. The Dr. Oz Show is educational entertainment for adults. The show is making health a "cool" thing to talk about. It is making health information accessible to the general public. The show is even making some of the "unspeakables", like teen sex, speakable in polite company.

More than anything though, what that special show on free health care brought home to me is how lucky Canadians are to have government funded health insurance. We take it for granted. Watching those regular people struggling with something as basic as staying healthy shook me up. Obama is facing a lot of resistance to his proposed health care plan. Why? It seems like common sense to me. Does it all have to be about money in the end? I think health care is a basic human right in modern society, in any society for that matter. It is funny that in the most (self-proclaimed) "advanced" and powerful society on the globe there is such a discrepancy between the haves and the have nots.

My mother-in-law is struggling with very serious health issues. These days she visits doctor's offices, hospitals, specialists and medical laboratories every week. She is going through tests and more tests to figure out what is making her so sick and, more importantly, what is the best course of treatment to give her the best chances to recover. It has been hard on her. It has been tough on my father-in-law, her sons, and daughters in law. The "not knowing" may be the worse part because you don't know what you are fighting. We just have to trust the process and believe that her medical team will do everything in their power to make her better. We try to stay positive.

But I can't imagine what it would feel like if every visit and every test was a withdrawal from our bank accounts. It would be even more painful not being able to get her the medical care she needs to get better because of lack of insurance and money. That is one less thing thing we have to worry about as Canadians. Our health costs are covered. We can dedicate all our energies to getting better. One more great reason to be proud to be Canadian ...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Giving Thanks

At Thanksgiving families gather round tables to share a meal and give thanks. Around our table last night my teenage daughters and my six teenage nieces surprised with their deep expression of gratitude. They were thankful for sisters and family (even if we fight and get on each other's nerves sometimes), for having switched to a new school where there is no bullying, for their success as a musician, for their mother's success in a new business venture, for the things we take for granted like water, a roof over our head and a peaceful country. Our rebellious teens may have a hard edge exterior but they have soft and kind hearts. They push us away with their "I don't care" attitude but they are fooling us. They do care. They are wise observers of the world. They just don't want us to know.

I used to keep a Gratitude Journal. Every night for six or seven years I would write in my journal five things I was grateful to have in my life. At first I struggled to find those five things. Culturally, we are programmed to see what is wrong and what is missing. I find it is much more difficult to be appreciative and be grateful. So I had to teach myself to pay attention to my life in a different way.

After a (long) while it became second nature for me to go through my day "looking" for something to write in my journal at night. When I saw or felt something positive I would tell myself "take a picture of this with your mind so you can remember to write it down in your journal tonight." I recorded in my thoughts what brought me pleasure and happiness. As I re-read my entries I found that a pattern emerged. The things I am grateful for are simple things, little things really. Things like noticing the sun rise over the snow covered fields on my way to work, the smell of a fresh brewed cup of coffee, a hug from a daughter who does not like to show affection, a compliment from a co-worker, etc...

As a write this I regret that I have not written in my Gratitude Journal in over 6 months. Our family has gone through some difficult times this year and the journal became one more "chore" to get done before I could crash in my bed exhausted for a few hours of sleep so I could start the whole thing all over again the following day. Funny that I would sacrifice the one thing that would give me a positive perspective on my life isn't it? I think it is time for me to start the comforting ritual of writing in my journal again.

Thank You

For the force of life coursing through my veins
For my curious mind

For my strong yet fragile heart
For the miracle of nature around me

For the people who share their hearts with me

For the people who learn with me

For the people who teach me

And for the people who dream with me... of a better world

What are you grateful for?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Run for our lives

This morning I ran in the Breast Cancer Run for the Cure. I have run this race every year for 5 years now. The Run for the Cure is my favorite race of the season. You cannot help but be awed watching a sea of people, over 10,000 this year, dressed in all shades of pink.

Years ago this race was mostly for women, mothers and daughters. In recent years, the race transformed into a family event with almost as many men as women participating. It is common to see three generations of women walking together, chatting, pushing strollers or holding the hand of a little four year old. And, we see men of all ages walking along with the women.

There are corporate teams like CIBC or The Running Room. There are family teams like Oma Tucker's Life Support Team and In Memory of Sherilynn. There are sisterhoods like the Ta Ta Sisterhood and Pretty in Pink teams. There are brotherhoods like André's Trailblaizers and Real Men who Dare to Wear Pink teams.

For me, it is a happy occasion to get together with my sisters. One of my sisters volunteers every year to help organize the event. I can always count on her to tell me to hold on to my backpack while I run and to be there when I come back to congratulate me. Her teenage son hangs out with her because he likes working with people plus he can accumulate volunteer hours for his high school credits. My other sister usually walks with 2 or 3 of her 6 daughters (yes, I did say SIX daughters). Her husband who is a phys ed teacher and an accomplished athlete is the lone adult male in our group. If I have been especially persuasive, one or both of my teenage daughters join me for this event but this year part time jobs and ringette games interfered so I was alone from my clan.

There is a buzz in the air. They have started the countdown. A mass of pink clad people are lined up behind the Start Line. 1-2-3 GO! At first, no one is running. There are too many people. It is a compact mass of people moving forward in unison. So I just walk slowly until I can find a hole in the crowd. I start weaving back and forth between people in search of a clear path to run. It is a bit like an obstacle course. I like it. I get to "visit" different groups of people as I run along with them for a while.

We are a couple of kilometres in. I am running at a fast clip trying to keep my pace steady as we go up a hill. I start thinking of my sore knees and my problem hip that is acting up these days. I get a bit winded and that small voice in my head starts badgering me. "Why did you have to get up so early on a Sunday morning to come here anyways? Don't you have enough to do at work and at home without adding even more to your calendar?" But then my eyes start to focus on the "I run for..." signs on the back of people I pass.

I run for...
  • My mother who is fighting breast cancer for a second time
  • My daughter who was just diagnosed
  • In memory of gramma
  • Women all over the world
  • YOU... hey, I already had it
  • A cure

All of a sudden, I forget the discomforts in my body and I let all that positive energy envelop me. That energy carried me through the Finish Line, twice. I ran the race a second time just because. Just because I am healthy and I can do it.

At the Finish Line the mood is celebratory. People who are crossing the line after a speedy time of 20 minutes for 4.5 km get the same acknowledgement as the people who cross the line 55 minutes into the race. There are lots of laughter, singing, "hurrays" and "high fives" from people watching on the side lines.

You bet that it was worth it! Even though I have been craving a bit of extra sleep lately it was worth it to get up early this morning to join 10,000 fellow human beings, running and walking, to raise funds to find a cure for breast cancer and other cancers. Being part of this event is important to me. Taking some time out from my busy life to fan the flame of hope for a cure is a celebration of life.

They say that one of the key to happiness is gratitude. Taking part in the Run for the Cure is my way to give thanks for my health and the health of my family.

I believe there is strength in numbers. Together, we can find the courage to face the dark shadow of cancer. Together we can fight it. Together we can help fund research to find a cure. We can find a cure - it is just a matter of time.

Some stats:

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).

In 2009:
  • An estimated 22,700 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,400 will die of it.
  • An estimated 180 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 50 will die of it.
  • On average, 437 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every week.
  • On average, 104 Canadian women will die of breast cancer every week.
  • One in 9 women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime and one in 28 will die of it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What do you know that I don't know?

I traveled to Fredericton (New Brunswick) for business this week. I arrived in the late afternoon and since it was a beautiful sunny day, I decided to sit on the patio of the hotel to read a book, watching the sun go down over the river while sipping a glass of wine. I was having one of those rare moments of pure bliss and I was feeling grateful.

A bit later, an older gentleman took a seat at the table next to me. I commented on the beautiful sunset and he replied that this was his favorite place to pause after a days' work to watch the day surrender to the night. The gentleman's name was Neil. He said he came here every week night. Neil spends his day at the office until close to 6:00 pm, does an hour workout at the gym and sits on that hotel patio with a glass of wine to reflect on the day. As we chat, I find out that Neil is a public servant who has been planning to retire for the past five years but every year he seems to put it off for a little while longer. He tells me that he has finally made the decision to leave and this is definitely his last year. Neil hired a 37 year old to train as his replacement. The young man has many ideas on how to improve things but Neil is not open to his ideas. Neil tells him to do the job his way. He reasons that the young man will have lots of time to implement his new ideas once he retires.

"Really?" I exclaim. "Why aren't you interested in what your young employee has to say?" Neil replies "I am too tired to start something new. My way works well and I would rather not complicate things before I leave. I want the last few months before I retire to be quiet and uneventful." I understood him and at the same time I felt he was missing an opportunity to learn: "This is fascinating to me because tomorrow I am giving a talk about leadership and inter-generational communication. Both generations can learn from each other but we need to create more opportunities for a knowledge exchange in the workplace."

Neil and I had a lively conversation over supper. We compared notes about our definition of leadership, our work ethics and our perceptions on work life balance. By the end of the evening, I knew what had been Neil's most satisfying work experiences, his biggest disappointments and the important life lessons he had learned along the way. Even with the age difference, Neil and I had many things in common. In that short span of time we gained enough trust in each other to share some painful truths. We both have children that are struggling with health issues and may not live up to the dreams we had dreamed for them. I left that conversation changed. I think it meant a lot to Neil as well. When I got back home from the trip, Neil had already sent me two emails!

The following day I led a group of a hundred people through an exercise where I paired up an older, more seasoned, public servant with a younger public servant. I asked them to interview each other and tell a story about a high point in their life when they felt they showed true leadership. They listed the common elements found in the stories from the older public servants and did the same thing for the stories from the younger public servants. They compared the list of key leadership attributes from each set of stories and identified the similarities and differences.

The group discovered that the definition of leadership was the same between generations. What was different was the approach that each generation used to achieve their goals. For example, the younger generation made good use of technology to establish and sustain social networks, using tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Skype to their advantage. The older generation put in a lot of overtime to get the work done and operated closely within the confines of the written and unwritten rules of the workplace culture.

For the older generation, the young public servants are the fresh eyes. After spending many years in the same work culture we take things for granted and not be able to see the new possibilities. It takes humility to consider and give merit to someone else's ideas, especially if they are younger and less experienced than yourself. It takes courage to acknowledge that there might be a better way and allow someone else to point the way. At the same time it can be a worthwhile exchange. The younger generation can teach the older generation how to gain an edge through the use of new technology and new approaches among other things.

For the younger generation, the older public servants have a wealth of information that can help them become successful in the workplace. Through their many years of work experience, older public servants have acquired tacit knowledge about how to get the job done that cannot be learned at school or in books. Younger public servants honor their older colleagues when they ask them to share their stories, teach the lessons they learned along the way, and solicit their advice on work issues. It is a gift and privilege to be chosen as a mentor or a guide.

What about you?
  • What was the best piece of advice you've ever received at work?
  • Who gave it to you?
  • Older or younger? Same age and level of experience?

What would happen if you purposely sought advice from someone of another generation this week? You could learn a thing or two ... If nothing else, you make that person's day because they would feel appreciated and valued. So what have you got to lose?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

For the Love of Trees

Trees. I love trees. Trees are the visual backdrop to the change of seasons. Bare in the winter, tender green in the spring, deep shades of green in the summer, and colorful in the fall. It is the last weekend of Summer and you can smell Fall in the cool morning air. The forest is starting to dress for fall with shades red, orange, and yellow.

My love of trees started in my childhood. We had big tall trees in our backyard. Younger, I took refuge under the biggest tree entertaining myself with imaginary games of ladies in distress and the brave knights that rescued them. Older, I spent hours reading under the shade of that tree. I remember feeling sad the day my dad had to cut some trees who were dying because of dutch elm disease. Our backyard seemed oddly bare after that. My favorite tree was spared.

Many years later, when my little brother was born, that same tree became the home for his tree house. My dad lovingly built that tree house for his only son, who came to them later in life after four girls. The tree house was in the form of a pirate ship complete with a decorated bow, an anchor that could be thrown overboard and wheeled back in, and a zip line to another tree for a quick escape in case of invasion from enemies. One day, my dad and my brother ceremoniously buried in the ground, at the base of the tree, a treasure chest that became a time capsule filled with mementos of a child's life.

My love of trees has followed me into adulthood. My family teases me because I come back from every trip with pictures of me hugging a tree - in Japan, Australia, Thailand, and in my own country, hugging centennial trees in Stanley Park in Vancouver (BC).

This week I watched a movie called Taking Root about Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman who also loves trees. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work planting trees.

"Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking so that humanity stops threatening its life support system. We are called to assist the earth to heal her wounds. And in the process, heal our own… In the course of history there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness. To reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now."

Excerpts from Wangari Maathai’s Nobel Peace Prize
Acceptance Speech, 2004

At the beginning of the movie, Wangari Maathai tells the story of how, when she was a child, she spent hours playing by a huge fig tree near her village. At the foot of the tree there was a stream. In the stream there were colorful and glittering frog eggs. She thought those eggs would make wonderful beads for a necklace and she would spend hours trying to collect them in her hands. One day, after spending years studying abroad, she returned to her village and was saddened by the fact that her tree had been cut down to make place for a church. The stream had dried up. There was no more vegetation. The land was dust.

That was the beginning of her quest to reclaim the land of her native Kenya.

Maathai started by reconnecting with the rural women with whom she had grown up. They told her they were walking long distances for firewood, clean water was scarce, the soil was disappearing from their fields, and their children were suffering from malnutrition.

Planting trees was the answer. Maathai taught the women how to plant trees and they taught each other. These women found themselves working successively against deforestation, poverty, ignorance, embedded economic interests, and government corruption, until they became a national political force that helped to bring down Kenya's 24-year dictatorship.

"We approached the women and tried to make a relationship between environmental problems and their daily problems . . . And we called the foresters. They came and they talked to women. They did not really see why I was trying to teach women how to plant trees. Because to plant a tree you need a diploma! I said, 'well, I don't think you need a diploma to plant a tree."
Wangari Maathai wanted to remind her people of the values and wisdom they had inherited from their ancestors. She wanted them to remember how to live in harmony with nature. It was not until foreigners came to their country, the English who wanted to colonialize them, that their natural resources were seen as a way to make money and gain power. The delicate balance between human and nature changed then and led to disastrous results. The earth was stripped of its bounty and people began fighting over the earth's resources.

"There was something in our people that had helped them conserve those forests. They were not looking at trees and seeing timber. They were not looking at elephants and seeing ivory. Or looking at the Cheetahs and seeing the beautiful skin for sale. There was no such economic value of these animals so they let them be. It was in their culture to let them be."
In essence, what Wangari Maathai did was help people reconnect with something deeply imbedded in their psyche, a profound respect for nature and for the old ways. Once people re-discovered their true path there was no turning back.
"You raise your consciousness to a level where you feel that you must do the right thing, because it is the only right thing to do."
Your strong conviction gives you the courage to act. And acting in community can change the world.