Finding My Match to Light My Explosion

One late afternoon I was picking up my son from school.  He realized he had left something outside on the playground so he ran off to go and get it whilst I held the door open for him.  We were making a game of it, I was counting how long it would take as I held the door open for him, catching what little was left of the summer sun on my face.

All of a sudden the school janitor came roaring up the hallway (shouting at me and another mom) to keep the door closed as he was tired of cleaning up all the leaves that drifted in and those doors needed to be closed…NOW.

Off he huffed.

Taken aback and not sure how to respond, I closed the door and waited for my son.  There he was in a few seconds bright faced and beaming with his forgotten item, asking me how long he had been…34, no 36 seconds (dammit I was internally frazzled, trying to maintain my composure and pick a number from thin air).  On the way home, my son was eating his after school snack and I asked him if I could have one. He gave me a tiny piece, and I got annoyed.  Sweetie I said…could you not be so stingy? For goodness sake just give me a full piece…just like that my mood had twisted on itself and I had gone from being the dog being kicked to becoming the kicker.

A few weeks ago in my job I encountered an individual (on project A I was working on) whose interaction with me left me locking the bathroom stall and breathing through my anger as the hot tears welled up on my face.    When did it become ok for grown ups to act like toddlers, screaming to get their way?  And when did we as the recipient grown ups start letting them get away with it? I would love to have said to both parties (as the after effects settled on me) you’re on time out! Go sit in the corner until you can learn how to behave!  You don’t get your way by screaming! All things my husband and I constantly say to our 3 year old when the immense torture of getting a blue spoon instead of the green spoon takes hold of her emotions.

In contrast a few weeks ago in the same said job, I encountered another individual (on Project B I was working on) whose conversation left me with great next steps, open door dialogue and a feeling of mutual respect to get the job done.  No bathroom stalls or fictionary green time out chairs needed here!

Going forward I plan on speaking to the Principal about the leaf incident, being armored up going into my next project A communication, and in general just trying to not be a deer in the headlights until the person storms off, but rather the voice that starts to push back protecting my boundaries.  Lighting my match during the cold and not after I am safely indoors.  And until that match gets lit outside in the real world, giving myself a break for how I reacted (or didn’t react).  Realizing that standing up for myself (like any new behaviour) is a learned behaviour, will come with time, and as long as I am listening to my inner voice and not pooh poohing it away then at least I am on the right track to giving my match a striking chance.

Just watch out world …when this fire gets started..


The Best Gift Of All…Honest Feedback

Our CTO pulled me aside and asked me if I had a minute.  I did.  We spoke about a meeting we had both been in the day prior and he said…you know, yesterday you did not show up well.  The person that I saw in that meeting was not the person that I know.  I want the other leaders in that room to see the person that I see, and here is what you are going to do about it…

The rest of the day I felt powered up and elated.

Someone whom I respected and cared about within the organization had taken the time to invest in my brand and come and tell me about how to change the perceived brand track that I did not know I was on.  Someone had taken the time to give me HONEST feedback and a plan based on that feedback.

Recently, one of my team members was not themselves showing up well.  Their work whilst “fine” was not advocating what they were really capable of doing. I scheduled a touch base. I vetted my thoughts and comments with HR. I have given feedback before but this was my first go at HONEST feedback.  We spoke.  We discussed what “bad”, “good” and “best” looked like and we worked on a plan for “best” going forward.  Two months later my team member’s business partners independently pulled me aside to comment on the change.  Mentioning words like “trust”, “confidence” and “expert” to describe the team member.  The partners didn’t know the how, but they were loving seeing the results.

My own boss, whom I once was so angered at for giving me honest feedback, gave the same type of feedback to someone else whom I work with.  I actively sought this person out to speak with them.  Not to commiserate but to explain and stand up for our boss.  I wanted to help this person see the why and the intent behind it all. I worked with another business team and the analyst helping us was not doing himself any favors in his communication with us.  I was this close to contacting his manager, however instead, scheduled coffee with him to have a bigger discussion involving face to face feedback and personal brand.

In a week I am leaving my company and all the wonderful people I have had the honor to work with and the friends I have made.  On Friday I had mid-year check ins with my individual team members and instead of lengthy goals and lofty aspirations I left them each with one “gift” to work on and improve.  My earlier referenced team member I told to NOT SLIP UP and focus on their own growth this year, developing others would come next year.

That conversation went well.

My other team member, someone whom anyone would be lucky enough to have on their team, had a conversation with me about feedback.  Their particular Achilles heal in their career path is the interpretation of how feedback is received.  They action on feedback given, however they don’t seem to take it well.  My parting “gift” to work on was how to receive feedback.

This conversation did not go well, it ended in tears.

I slipped some articles over to them about feedback and also some gentle advice and methods to practice when getting it.

I came home last night and, still feeling uncomfortable about the earlier conversation, chatted to a friend.  She helped me realize that honest feedback is never comfortable and in some cases people may just have never had managers truly give them feedback before.  Many people get surface pablum, never anything real on their performance or why they are passed over for promotions, why their brand is taking a hit or what they really need to work on.

Because of feedback like that from my CTO and my boss, I am able to leave with my brand intact.   The next time someone gives you honest feedback, assess it.  Look at the intent behind the message.  If it is true, be thankful, that feedback might have just saved your career.


Pleased to meet you…here is my Blue Print

So often in the work place we get frustrated with how people communicate or interact with one another.  A personal pet peeve of mine is late deliverables.  Late deliverables with a heads up and communication or notification of the lateness  – not a problem.  Late deliverables with no communication and my skin crawls just a little bit.  Occasionally, the sender will bump into me with apologies for being late and the natural, dismissive response I give is “no problem at all” (which is a lie) but worse more so, is when the sender bumps into me and does nothing to address it simply moving onto the next thing.  And before you know it, this seemingly small thing has internally combusted and remained a stain on that person’s “white sheet of paper” with me and the worst thing is…they don’t even know it.  It is my issue.

After my run in with my boss a few months ago (see Lego post), it got me thinking…here she was trying to manage me one way with the best intentions.  Trying to push me to succeed and instead of driving me to success, she was alienating me because I needed to be managed in the opposite way.  What if, when I had joined her team, I had given her my blue print of how best to work with me and in return asked her for hers?  What if I had taken the time to do the same for my team I inherited?  At our first team meeting wouldn’t it have been great to have introduced myself and handed out my blue print and in return ask for theirs?  My blue print top items would have read something like this…1. if a deliverable is going to be late, let me know (I have no problem with lateness, I have a problem with not owning the lateness)…2. I don’t take hints, if you need something ask for it, don’t beat around the bush (but be gentle about it)…3. and don’t work gossip around me (it makes me feel uncomfortable)…

My team now knows certain things about what gets under my skin and what I respond well to, but I bet they don’t know everything and same thing for them with me.  I know most of how they respond, what they like, what they don’t like, but could it be better?   Many great working rhythms we have in play today have been trialed and errored throughout the year with a lot of feedback and open discussions coming either mid-year and end of year reviews or biweekly touch bases.  The heavens part a little when I think of the time and effort (not all but definitely some) that could have been saved with a blue print when we open the box on new working relationships and introductions.  When you buy a car, you get an instruction manual.  When you buy a Target lamp, you try to put it together yourself, get frustrated, and then return to the box for the instructions.  That cheaply made plastic kids toy you bought last Christmas, yes even that comes with a how to manual.

In a few weeks my life is going to take a different work direction.  My new boss contacted me and said if I need anything let him know.  My response will be a blue print as I hand him over mine.

The Grass Will Be Greener Wherever You Water It

It has been a year since I started my “new” job.  A job that the hiring manager way back when told me would take a year to come up to speed on (yeah right…I only needed three months).

Hitting the ground running, trying to understand a different side of the business and all the acronyms that were the same but meant something completely opposite in this new world, three months in I was tired.  Six months in I was exhausted and nine months in I was emotionally drained looking to get out.  A friend put me in touch with a recruiter at her company that she had just joined.  It was a great position and I succeeded through round after round of interviews, even a three hour phone call when I was away on holiday.  I had it nailed.  The recruiter contacted me for the final interview prep and confirmed potential start dates.  Woohoo!!! I was crossing the finish line, I was there!

I was standing in Target’s grocery section when she called and mentioned something about hating it when you put so much effort into something that doesn’t go the way you planned…

Wait…back up…where did my finish line go?

But I would suck it up.  I had options, I had friends –  connected friends who were fabulously in the know and some of my strongest advocates.  I would push on and push on I did.  I went through interview process two. I met with the team, I met with the cross functional partners, I was taken out to lunch.  Who needed the previous finish line?  This was clearly what fate had in mind for me.  A little patience and the right job would come around. As I was prepping for my offer a thought burrowed into my mind …wasn’t it ironic that I was finally starting to get my hands around the job and feel the floor with my feet to then be offered a new job? They told me they would call me on Friday.  It was too late for second thoughts now.

The phone stayed by my side on Friday.  It did not ring.  It did not register an email (even though I willed it over and over).  The weekend came and went.  I got the call on Monday.  I was working from home that day looking after a sick child and with each second that drew nearer to the timed call my gut twisted a little tighter.  I knew it would not be a good call, but how could it not be?  They loved me (inside intel had given me the scoop), they thought I was awesome, they thought I would be phenomenal with the teams.  I was a shoe in!

Unfortunately, they thought someone else was just a little bit more awesome with a little bit more shoe.

It was in the moment of rejection that I made a pact to my current role…ENOUGH.

Enough of the chasing, enough of the interviews and emotional investment.  Enough.  Give your soul a rest and focus 100% now on what you do have.

A few weeks have passed since that Friday & Monday and as I write this I can honestly say I am happy.  I am overworked, I am dedicated and I sleep soundly at night.    I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until I bumped into a friend who is also my old boss at work.  We got chatting about life (her father recently passed away unexpectedly) and we took a turn to discussing work.  She passed a comment that without knowledge to her and knowing the details of my last twelve months, summed up my current situation…

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side; it will be greener wherever you water it.

Inadvertently that’s what I had done by committing to my role. In that time of utter frustration at work, when I got stuck looking at the wood instead of the trees I panicked  and  instead of using my energy to lean in, I used it to look somewhere else.  In my feeling of no control I looked to places where I felt I had some control – the job sites, the friends with connections; any option that screamed “parachute here” as the plane was going down. But fate had kept me put to tend my garden, forcing me to water the grass and wait for summer to come.

Twelve months in, my grass is coming up and I am sitting on the deck enjoying a gin and tonic in the summer sun.

Don’t Ever Let Anyone Smash Your Legos!

A few weeks ago I picked up my six year old from Kindergarten. I asked him how his day was expecting to get the usual “fine” as a way of deflecting any other questions from me; however he turned and said with a sigh…”it was rough”.

He clearly didn’t want to talk about it in the middle of the school hallway so we walked out to the car and when we were on our way home he began to tell me…

It all started in the morning when he was at the Lego table building his Legos. One of his friend’s came along and told another friend to smash them. In retaliation my son hit him back. The teacher saw this and put my son on the time out table telling him he would not be allowed to play with Legos anymore for that day. Later that afternoon, when he was in line waiting to get a drink he dropped his cup. One of his friends teased him about it, so he pushed them. The teacher in charge saw this and so followed his second time out for the day. My son paused in the story recall, almost half expecting me to lecture him on how he mustn’t hit people and that next time he should use his words….

I paused. I turned to him and said, “sweet heart, I know it sounds like you have had a rough day, but do you know what, I think you had an awesome day! You stood up for yourself. You didn’t like what someone did to you, so you stood up for yourself. Always stand up for yourself, I am very proud of you.”

And I left it at that.

On talking to my husband that evening, he looked at me and began to go down the path of how we shouldn’t encourage our children to hit people and should rather show them the value of talking. I was quick to agree, however I was also quick to say that we were not there, we do not know what the “hit” looked like, for all we know it could have been a shove but translated for him it was a hit. Also, yes, we should talk things out, as we keep hearing from society; however for little kids with their developing minds do they really have the mental capacity to stop and converse with the person who hurt them. And I am talking really hurt them. At this stage in life, isn’t having your Legos smashed akin to being mugged in the mind of 6 year old?

But the real lesson that stuck with me from this event (as I realized what a fine balance it is to be a parent) wasn’t that what a fine balance it is to be a parent, but rather also being a living example to our kids.

At the same time, I was battling with my boss at work. We did not manage in the same style and she did not handle stress well. I would often find myself in a meeting room with her feeling like a battered wife as she vomited stress over me. I would find myself leaving those meetings drained and occasionally come home and sit on the couch in tears as my husband consoled me over a glass of wine. It especially came to a head one day during one of those meetings.  You can cut off my hand and I will not cry…but make me angry…

My guard down, more so than normal from getting over a bad cold, this time the tears did not wait until I was home. My boss did not miss a beat and continued.

I spoke to my therapist about it. I spoke to HR about it. HR was supportive, they offered to provide me with some coping mechanisms to help me in the future. That evening it hit me, here I am telling my son to stand up for himself and I am not living the same example. Indeed, just as he had felt a few weeks earlier when his Legos had been crushed, in the same vein hadn’t mine also? How often have we been in adult situations where we honestly feel that someone has come along and (image of a thumb going down) crushed our own Legos? Why did I have to change my behavior? If this situation was going to get sorted out I would need to take the matter into my own hands (easier said than done when you have to have a talk with a boss you do not have a good working relationship with).

But I did.

I scheduled a touch base with her and calmly told her that the previous week had gone too far. That she would get more out of me if she treated me a little more gently. To her credit, she was completely open to the conversation and mentioned how she had tried to hint at me for a while, to which I mentioned my lack of ability to take hints. Direct is fine, direct, but gentle.

It was one of the best professional conversations of my career so far.

I grew in that moment in so many ways.

Ironically, that was in the morning. That afternoon, there was an organizational change and she was no longer my boss.

Don’t ever let anyone smash your Legos…