Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Best "Out of Office" Message Ever

When I work with senior leaders in an organization, one of the hardest things for them to do is learn to let go and delegate. Even with a crushing burden on their shoulders, they resist the process of engaging their colleagues and subordinates in helping them do the best job possible.

I recently received this "out of office" email response - and was inspired by the message it sends beyond the information it conveys:

"I am on a much anticipated Italian cycling vacation from Venice to Ravenna. I will limp back to my desk on Monday. I am SO looking forward to disconnecting from technology - so I will not be checking emails or phone messages. This means that you will have to lean hard on my able team: Jane Smith ( or John Doe ( Arrivederci!"

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cost Reduction without the Ax

I was struck by a story I heard on NPR yesterday - an economist was relating how KPMG in the U.K. approached their need to reduce their personnel costs by 15%. Rather than rolling out company-wide layoffs, they offered people in management 3 options:
  • move to a 4 day work week and have your pay reduced 20%
  • take a sabbatical for a period of time this year and have your pay reduced 20%
  • keep your job and pay exactly as it is today

Everyone effected was able to make the choice that worked best for them - time off each week, a longer respite to do other things, continuation of work and pay as usual. The result? The company attained their cost reduction goals and their management cadre felt as though they had been properly engaged in making important worklife decisions for themselves.

Giving people a choice is a powerful management tool, and - in my experience - extremely underutilized!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Gift of Difficult Times

I can't deny it - the economic slide we're in has caused me more than a little worry. Will there be enough work for me? How long will this last? Can I support myself like this for much longer?
But, honestly, I have personally seen a silver lining in all this. Sounds trite, but - if I'm being honest - it has been somewhat refreshing and satisfying to think about expenses and necessities with fresh eyes. At moments, I've looked around and thought - I really do have enough shoes and I really didn't need HBO on my cable. I am committed to living a good life - but I see that a good life might just be a little less cluttered than my old life. This paring down to the essentials is what I'm thinking of as the gift of difficult times. And for this gift, I am grateful.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hooray for Mr. B. and PS 22!

Apparently, the chorus from PS 22 on Staten Island in NY has been taking the globe by storm on YouTube, but I hadn't seen these amazing young singers and their teacher until this morning on Good Morning America. Gregg Breinberg (Mr. B.) is the extraordinarily committed and energetic music teacher who has imbued hundreds of kids with the joy (and, clearly, transformational power) of music. You can't watch and listen to Mr. B. and the chorus and not catch their infectious enthusiasm and feel inspired. Have a listen to just one of their many YouTube hits, "Let There Be Peace On Earth": When asked about the importance of music and arts education on GMA this morning, Mr. B. offered: "We do pretty well with English and math, but if we don't teach music and humanities, people don't learn how to be human." As a life-long singer (and listener!), I couldn't agree more.

Read more about them in this NY Times article:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Does optimism make a difference?

I was surprised to read the viewer statistics for Michael J. Fox's recent TV program, "Adventures of an Incurable Optimist." The program garnered nearly 11 million viewers for that hour. Fox was exploring the idea of happiness, optimism, positive thinking and if/how it affects our lives. Clearly, his own optimism has profoundly influenced his life, especially in grappling with his Parkinson's disease. This weekend, I was visiting my parents and my 84 year old father - a life-long golfer - hesitated to accept my invitation to accompany me to the driving range to hit a bucket of balls. "I'm not as steady on my feet as I used to be," he told me. I could sense his apprehension. I mentioned to him that Michael J. Fox took up golf at 40, years after being diagnosed with Parkinson's, and he is most certainly not steady on his feet. "But he learned to make contact with the ball," I assured my father, and that's all you have to do. It might look different, it might feel different, but it's possible. So I've been thinking about where I can apply optmism to where I feel unsteady, figure out how to make contact with the ball, so to speak, change my game by ignoring fear. I tell my coaching clients frequently: you have a choice, you can choose to worry about (fill in the blank) or choose to expect good things, even though you can't predict them. Either way, time will pass, the sun will come up tomorrow. Why not choose optimism while you're waiting? I guess even in that small way - keeping us company while we wait - optimism can make a difference.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

One woman sitting alone in a room changed her world

An inspiring portrait of a game changer - -

Yesterday, a colleague pointed me to Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky's book "Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading." It opens with the story of a woman on an Native American reservation who, seeing how alcoholism was tormenting her community, founded an AA group. At first, there were no comers. She set up a neat circle of chairs each week and sat alone in the room. She told her skeptical friend, "I was not alone...I was there with the spirits and the ancestors; and one day, our people will come." After enduring years of being mocked because of how fiercely she was challenging her community's norms, things changed - the room was full, and the community was getting sober.

Where can each of us choose to take a quiet, powerful stand for good?