E-Notes: On Caring Managers, Psychologically Safe Cultures, and Tracking Tasks, People, and Ideas

Thank you to everyone who has already completed the Reader Survey from a few weeks ago. Didn’t get a chance to share your thoughts yet? I’d still love to hear from you.

Thanks to long runs and a little driving, I have been catching up on some podcasts. That’s great news! The one downside is I have a ton of new ideas to share and distilling down podcasts is harder than articles and blog posts in my opinion. Thank you in advance for your patience as I get this information compiled and shipped out to you.

You may have noticed it’s been a couple weeks since I last posted. My training volume has increased dramatically, work has gotten busier, we’ve been blessed with mostly gorgeous weather so I’ve been outside soaking it up as much as possible, and because of the increased training I have needed more sleep. Beyond writing the post itself, I also have to carve out time to read and listen to content in order to curate posts for you, my dear reader.

I was staying up until the wee hours on Tuesday nights/Wednesday mornings to get something published each week. That was no longer sustainable. Therefore, I had to shift my expectations and priorities.

I will continue to post as often as possible and keep The Repository updated as well (look for the date stamp of each update in the feed). I am letting go of any weekly regularity. I encourage you to subscribe to the blog (there should be a link at the bottom of the page) so you are always notified about new posts. New posts will also continue to be shared on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Part of the delay with this post was that I was trying to cram way too much into one missive. Instead I’m shipping the first part and then I’ll share the rest in future weeks. Let’s get to it!

Caring Managers

Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, has worked hard to change the company’s culture since he was promoted internally to the CEO role. One of the changes that Microsoft implemented a couple years before the pandemic, was a managerial framework called “model coach care.”

Satya was interviewed by Adam Grant for Wharton’s virtual Future of Work Conference (which was amazing!). That conversation was also shared on “Taken for Granted” – Adam’s podcast with the TED Audio Collective. Satya said the following about the care component of the framework and the state of work today:

The reality is all of us have different histories, different backgrounds, different daily events impacting us. And so being able to deeply have empathy for that and then making sure that their voice is heard in a meeting, that flexibility we talk about is being exercised to help people do their very best at work while they can take care of everything that’s needed in their life. That is what I think is the big thing that I think we’re all–I would say we’re much more capable today just because of what the trauma of the pandemic has taught us. Now the question is how do we exercise it? I think the impact of what’s happening broadly in the world on any employee at this point cannot be separated from how the employee feels at work.

Satya Nadella, on Taken for Granted with Adam Grant

Later he revisits care, the recognition that everyone has their own “tail events” as he calls them (a rare, difficult to anticipate event), and the importance to empower middle managers to support their teams:

…it’s a little bit of creating that safety, right? When you have the need, let’s just create an environment where people come to support you…I always think, I’m going to be spend a lot of time at work, and work needs to be the community that even supports you in your life. And how do we create an environment that allows for that natural flow?….Unless we create the empowerment, the space, that capability in the middle so that they can care for their people, it’s just not going to happen.

Satya Nadella
An image of two males seated at a table with snacks and bottles of water. They are having a conversation where one person is listening and the other is talking with his arms open and palms up.
Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

Psychologically Safe Cultures

Adam Grant shares that he has long admired Satya’s humility and vulnerability as a leader. Satya models that you don’t have to have all of the answers as a leader and he also admits when he has been wrong or made a mistake. In his answer describing how he developed the confidence to do these things, Satya talked about his confidence and vulnerability being tied to psychologically safe teams:

The psychological safety that one creates around you, especially the more senior you are, becomes, I think, super important. And to your point, one technique of that is to share your own fallibility because that gives confidence to others. Feeling secure leads you to be more vulnerable. But then the real issue is systemically how do you help people feel secure? And so that is where the cultural element of having psychological safety as being a first class thing that’s talked about, where people are not jumping down people’s throats the first time they admit a mistake…which by the way, I do sometimes and then I have to check myself, right? In my last staff meeting someone asked me this question, ‘Hey, when somebody sends a mail, where you know something’s wrong, what do you do?’ And I thought about it for a while. And I said, you know, the first thing that comes to mind, of course, is I want to send back a flame mail to the next person, but then at good times I check myself and say, God, you know, all that will do is cause that person to be more stressed but I’ve got to really look at the systemic issues here and then help them recognize to fix it. So the more introspective we are in creating these safe zones and psychological safety as a cultural thing, as opposed to any one individual being vulnerable from time to time, I think is probably the most important thing.

Satya Nadella, on Taken for Granted with Adam Grant

Tracking Tasks, People, and Ideas

One last nugget from this interview is Satya’s description of his father’s journal. Every day, his dad would write the following in his journal:

  • Tasks done
  • People met
  • Ideas generated to act on

We’re all familiar with the to do list and people like Seth Godin, Chase Jarvis, and James Altucher talk about writing ideas lists. Having a list of the people you met and on which date is incredibly helpful as well. I’m good at remembering names compared to most people but having a written list would make it even easier to remember names. Plus you could document a little tidbit or memorable detail about them.

This dovetails nicely with an idea that author and executive leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith shared on “The Knowledge Project” podcast with Shane Parrish. Marshall recounted a story from one of his clients improving his recognition skills. The client made a list of everyone that was important in his life (friends, family, colleagues, direct reports, etc.) Then twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, he checked the list and asked himself, “Did anyone on this list do anything this week that I should recognize?” If they had done something, he would send a quick note, call them, leave a voice mail, send a card, etc. This is the kind of goal I want to achieve!

What are your thoughts on today’s ideas? How do you improve the psychological safety of your teams or incorporate empathy into your management style? Have you used a different tactic to deliver recognition or to help you remember the people and ideas that pop up in your life? I hope you all are safe and getting to enjoy a little bit of summer. Until next time…

E-Notes: On Honoring a Treasured Mentor and Good Leadership Being Priceless

This week’s post is dedicated to my mentor and friend, Dr. Liang Chee Wee, who recently retired from his role as President at Northeast Iowa Community College. He began his journey as NICC’s President in October 2011. Throughout his years of service, he garnered the trust, respect, and admiration of many colleagues, community members, and mentees like myself.

Like all larger than life leaders, no one is perfect nor universally revered. Yet there are a few, like Dr. Wee, who stand out as an exemplar. It is hard to put into words the influence Dr. Wee has had on my life. And I am only one of so many lives that he has touched.

When my husband and I first visited Decorah in September 2014, we fell in love with the town immediately. I was also extremely happy that there was a community college nearby which might provide future job opportunities. However, moving to Decorah immediately wasn’t possible because I was moving to Kansas to start a new job at a different community college the next week!

Fast forward two more years and thanks to that job in Kansas, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2016-2017 Kansas Community College Leadership Institute (2nd class, First Best! iykyk). Kansas’s group comes together for a session in October with the two higher education leadership institutes from Iowa. I was already looking forward to the October session since it was focused on Diversity and Inclusion. Then I heard that Dr. Wee was going to be one of the speakers. My college had recently reviewed an NICC publication as an example of best practices so I had been reading up on the college. When he took questions at the end of his talk, I mentioned this as part of my question. He came up to me afterward, gave me his card, and offered help from his college any time.

From our first visit to Decorah, moving here never left our minds. We actively took steps to visit as often as possible and try to “live like locals.” Our first winter visit was in December 2016 and Dr. Wee agreed to meet for coffee.

Five and a half years ago, I was the director of a regional location for my college. I wasn’t sure what my next steps would be professionally. My long-term goal was working toward a college presidency, ideally at NICC, but my path to that role was still unclear at the time.

Our chat that December was the most open and honest discussion I had ever had about ALL aspects of a college presidency. A job that has gotten even more challenging in recent years. It also felt like the first time I had ever talked to a college president* about the state of higher education, college administration, the role of community colleges, and the weight of responsibility placed on a college president as if I already was one.

Dr. Wee told me that doors of opportunity were certain to open for me. It would be up to me to be ready and to decide whether I wanted to walk through the door once it was opened. Within six months of that conversation, I accepted the position of Vice President for Academic Affairs at my college.

Over the years, Dr. Wee graciously agreed to meet during many other visits to Decorah. He monumentally changed my life through these conversations. Sometimes he simply listened while I verbally processed whatever professional issues I was wrestling with at the time. Other times, he eloquently reflected back a clear summation of what he heard, from the flood of words and emotions I’d just shared. Most of the time though, we candidly talked through issues facing higher ed, community colleges, students, academics, funding, COVID, etc. We exchanged ideas and shared possible solutions. He shared advice, experiences, and lessons learned. We also caught up about the expanding list of friends and colleagues I had introduced to him over the years.

Through his mentorship, I have enjoyed the rare opportunity to honestly discuss the state of things with the utmost trust and without the fear of any judgment. To have a more experienced college administrator to talk to has been priceless, especially in a career path that can feel very lonely and isolated.

Additionally, I have become a better mentor myself by applying the techniques and wisdom I’ve learned from my many meetings with Dr. Wee. I feel the greatest honor I can bestow upon my mentors is to pass on their lessons and “each one, teach one” mentor the next generation. Dr. Wee showed me through his actions that you make time for mentoring and I try to do the same.

*outside of my family – hi Joseph!

Words of Wisdom

Here are a few of the key phrases that I learned and take to heart from Dr. Wee:

  • Look for the good, be the good, and do the good
  • Eat, hydrate, and rest
  • Be grateful for every day – there’s always something to be grateful for
  • Every point of your journey shapes you so don’t dwell on regrets
  • Be patient and have faith that things will work out
  • Relationships and human connection are key. He is greatly influenced by the lessons of support, love, and caring that his parents and grandparents taught him through their actions taking care of family, friends, and neighbors.
  • Focus on the person, not the behavior – never lose sight of the good in a person even when their actions are not what you want them to be
  • When one door closes, turn around and explore the other doors.

Dr. Wee, as you close one door, I look forward to hearing about what is next because as you often say, “There is still work to do.” Thank you for giving so much of yourself for the benefit of others. The trajectories of our lives were forever changed after meeting you.

You are truly one of a kind! Thank you!

Picture of two people after a running race at the Decorah Loop de Loop.
After Dr. Wee beat me at Loop de Loop 2017 – Photo credit: Jason Shaw

To the rest of you, Dear Readers, thank you for giving me the space to publicly recognize such an impactful person in my life. Who are your mentors? What lessons have you learned from them? Drop some thoughts in the comments about those individuals or words of wisdom that have changed the trajectory of your life.

Good Leadership is Priceless

Here’s a fitting excerpt from the Admired Leadership Field Notes to close out today’s post:

The timeless gifts leaders give and receive are infinite: the deep connection we create with others, the strength others feel from our confidence, the candid feedback that changes the arc of a colleague’s life, the inspiration that enables others to continue fighting through adversity. 

The importance of leadership cannot be overstated. Leadership, in its greatest display, makes people and situations better. The Greek word for the gift of leadership is proistemi, which means to assist, protect, and care for others. Leadership changes lives. That is the very definition of priceless. 

Admired Leadership Field Notes, June 26, 2022

Happy Friday!

E-Notes: Inquiring Minds Want to Know, “Tell ‘Em What You Really Think,” and Giving Quality Feedback

Last week was my 15th E-Notes post. Wow, how time flies! To celebrate the milestone, I decided to check in with you about the blog so far. I’ve created a quick 10-question survey to gather your input and feedback. Your answers will help me improve. Plus I’m curious about my dear readers!

Take the Survey – Please and thank you (as Ron Swanson would say)!

Bonus: Something special to brighten your day in case you’re the only one in the office this week while everyone else is on vacation.

Thank you for taking the survey! Now go enjoy 4 minutes of found time and see you next week!

The face and front legs of a white and gray kitten lying on its back with its front paws in the air.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

E-Notes: “Time is Life,” Overcoming Today and the SOY, and True Community

I bet I spend a lot of the year chewing on today’s three ideas. I hope your summer is off to a good start! We did a little camping and kayaking at the Apostle Islands last weekend and have a quick trip to see friends in Michigan coming up. But there’s still a blog to post in the middle!

“Time is Life”

First up, is from Dr. Albert Bourla’s book Moonshot: Inside Pfizer’s Nine-Month Race to Make the Impossible Possible. The audiobook was a bit dry due to the tone of voice. However, the book itself was fairly exciting. It was a mix of business, science, innovation, and leadership. At certain parts, it even reminded me of Andy Weir’s books The Martian and Project Hail Mary with its similar ambitious hope to accomplish crazy goals.

As Pfizer was developing their COVID vaccine, Dr. Bourla started using the phrase “Time is Life” rather than “time is money.” The following is one of my favorite parts of the book. (I transcribed from the audiobook so any typos, spacing issues, or grammatical issues are my own.)

“Looking back, I think this attitude, “Time is Life,” was the most important success factor for this project. Setting goals that are very aspirational, goals that someone has never achieved before, can unleash human creativity in phenomenal ways.

When you ask people to do in eight years something that normally takes ten, they will find it challenging but they will think of solutions within the current process. If you ask them to make 300 million doses instead of 200 million (that was our current annual capacity at that time), they will find it hard but will investigate solutions that improve the current way of doing things. They may achieve something better by doing so, but usually these processes have been optimized over years and there’s only so much you can do to deliver more. However, in this case, I didn’t ask people to do it in eight years. I asked them to do it in eight MONTHS. I didn’t ask them to make 300 million doses. I asked them to make 3 BILLION doses and I insisted that these targets were not negotiable.

It was clear from the beginning that incremental improvements would not make the cut. They needed to completely rethink their processes. They had to redesign them from scratch and be creative at every single new step of a new process. And they did it!”

excerpt from Dr. Albert Bourla in Moonshot: Inside Pfizer’s Nine-Month Race to Make the Impossible Possible
A large clock is resting on a wooden surface. The face of the clock has large numbers. The background is white and then the countries of the world are laid out in various colors.
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

In Spring 2020, leaders in every sector and at every level were attempting to lead and support their teams through monumental shifts occurring almost overnight. I was working with a team of directors to help over 200 faculty and adjunct instructors and thousands of students flip to fully remote instruction. We did our best in a very chaotic, uncertain time. Similar to Dr. Bourla, I was asking them to do things in hours, days, and weeks that would normally been given months or years, if it was even required at all. Even so, everyone including the most technology resistant faculty and students, came together to make things work, to give others the benefit of the doubt, and recognize that we were all trying to get through something none of us had ever experienced.

On March 5, 2020, I drafted an email to my boss. The subject line was “Big Rocks” and it started like this:

Just sharing so you know where the storm clouds are on the horizon…

“Big rocks” that I am concerned about because I will need to figure out how to fit them on top of the Comprehensive Assessment Plan relaunch, Canvas launch, and HLC Monitoring Report that are all due/happening between April 1st and April 30th….

I went on to list five major projects that needed to get done in addition to the three major projects mentioned above. There was also one more bullet point:

6) #Coronavirus – This is a moving target on a daily basis right now but it would be an all hands on deck effort to move things entirely online. Because it would be an emergency situation, we’d have to drop everything else listed above. At the same time, many of the things listed above might give us forgiveness if we have to close for COVID-19 so there is that.

I never sent the email. By mid-March, we closed all locations for two months, flipped all classes remote with only a week’s notice, and pivoted everything we were doing. Working together, in addition to surviving the chaos of the early days of the pandemic, we also accomplished all eight of the major projects I outlined in that email. I found the draft again on November 20, 2020, right after the last “Big Rock” in the email had been accomplished. It felt surreal!

Overcoming Today and the SOY

Today, I caught an M&M Show episode on LinkedIn Live. It was titled “Why We Fail Thinking About The Future” hosted by Martin Lindstrom and Marshall Goldsmith and posted by MURAL. One of the guests on the show was author Peter Hinssen. He has a new book out but today he was talking about an idea from his book The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve added the book to my “Need to Read” list and wanted to share the gist of his ideas from today.

Peter Hinssen asks us all to think about your time as leader. Divide your into three buckets: Today, Tomorrow, and Day After Tomorrow. Today is almost entirely consumed with emails, meetings, and urgent deadlines. Tomorrow is not much than today. While it represents the future, everything tomorrow is focused on survival and the type of things that keep us up at night. The Day After Tomorrow is where the magic happens. That’s where new ideas, new innovation, new models, and inspiration takes place. Where shifts are made to an entire business or industry and the rules of the game are rewritten.

When Peter asked executives to estimate how much time they spent on these three buckets, they said: 70% Today, 20% Tomorrow, and 10% Day After Tomorrow. What Peter actually found was they were spending: 93% on Today, 7% on Tomorrow, and 0% on the Day After Tomorrow. This certainly rings true to my own experiences. How often have you felt like you can’t get past emails and meetings long enough to get started on projects that you have to get done? And there goes any hope of focused time. Do you spend all day putting out fires for other people and never get to your own tasks?

In the episode, Peter tells a story about the first time he shared his Day After Tomorrow model at a workshop. An executive came up to the drawing of his model on the white board and added a big red box to the left of Today. He said Peter’s model was missing a crucial element…the “Shit of Yesterday.” The SOY is the negativity and reeking piles we’re constantly cleaning up every day in some organizations. Wow is that an accurate addition to the model!

Picture of a planner, a pen, and a plant. The cover of the planner has an emoji drawing of poop centered above the words To Do.
Photo by Surja Sen Das Raj on Pexels.com

What are some ways that you can minimize the SOY and spend more time on Day After Tomorrow thinking? Have you tried something that you’re willing to share with the rest of us? If so, drop it in the comments!

True Community

Gary Vaynerchuk’s life and time is spent hyper-focused on removing the negative SOY and the minutiae of Today. He lives in the Day After Tomorrow more than anyone else I follow. He recently held his first VeeCon in Minneapolis. The content he shared in his daily vlogs was overwhelmingly positive and full of infectious energy. Even I had FOMO. I’m impressed with all he is doing to bring hope, optimism, love, and support into the world.

Here’s his thought I wanted to pass along to wrap up today’s post. When asked in a media interview what was missing in terms of creating a solid community, Gary answered,

“The reason most people struggle with building community is almost everybody who says they’re trying to build “community,” is actually trying to build customers. They’re not trying to build a community. They want them to buy…”This is my community – by the way buy this home from me”…”This is my community – buy this coffee from me.” People are trying to create customers.

Building community only looks one way: YOU are giving more to them than you want from them. And most people can’t do that. Most people aren’t trying to build communities. They’re trying to use the word, but if you erase behind the word, it actually says “Customers”.

Gary Vaynerchuk, in The Only Way To Build A Community – DailyVee 605 | VeeCon Day 3

As you go about your week think about what you are doing to build true community? How can you give more to the coworkers, children, parents, students, teachers, coaches, counselors, clergy, farmers, and business owners in your life than you want from them? What are the areas of your industry where incremental changes will no longer work? Where must you rethink entire processes and redesign every step from the ground up? And how can you build more time in your work schedule to focus on those Day After Tomorrow ideas and concepts?

Until next week, Keep Showing Up!

E-Notes: On Alpha Waves, Single-Tasking, and Rewiring Your Brain

This week we’re exploring the brain and how to change its abilities. Let’s dive right in!

The inspiration for this post came from two articles posted in Atlassian’s blog, Work Life. The first article, “Alpha State of Mind,” explores different brain wave frequencies and the purposes they serve. The author describes alpha waves as the gold standard of brain waves and shares how you can increase your alpha wave activity. The second article’s title, “9 Neuroplasticity Exercises to Boost Productivity,” explains it all. But, wait! What’s neuroplasticity again? Keep reading to learn more!

Alpha Waves

According to the “Alpha State of Mind” article:

  • Delta waves are slow and dominate when you are sleeping
  • Theta waves take over when you are between sleeping and waking
  • Beta waves are your alert waves that help with problem-solving and decision-making
  • Gamma waves are in charge of your adrenaline fueled frenetic energy when rushing around
  • Alpha waves aid in information absorption, increased creativity, and humming along in flow

Think of this state as a kind of work hypnosis, where you’re fully engaged with your subject matter, yet completely happy and relaxed as you calmly and deftly decimate deadlines. 

Jonathan Thompson, author of “Alpha State of Mind”

Most of you have probably experienced flow at some point when doing something you enjoy. Think of artists and artisans working for hours in a studio, drawing, painting, cutting wood, fitting pieces together just right, and they barely notice the sun has gone down or that they worked through a meal. Others might experience flow when cooking, gardening, or playing chess as you give your undivided attention to something. The same experience can happen while doing a project at work. However, it takes schedule manipulation, boundary setting, and often support from coworkers and supervisors to pull off.

Single-Tasking (all the cool kids are doing it!)

Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World talks about the benefits of single-tasking rather than multi-tasking. (Deep Work includes numerous strategies that I adopted to be more productive. Check it out!) The point is to give your focused attention to one task for a prolonged amount of time. This lets you be more productive and turn out higher quality work.

When constantly switching between tasks, you experience attention residue each time you change tasks. You may think you’re focused on the new task but your brain is still lingering on the last task or topic. You can feel it happening. You’ve switched to reviewing data in a report on your screen but Oh no! Your brain still has a few things to say about that email message you just read. Your internal monologue is still churning away on a quippy reply and the data in front of you is taking extra effort to understand and focus on.

As a research university faculty member, Cal has more opportunity for deep work than other types of workers but we can still steal many of his secrets. Instead of full “thinking” days or large chunks of time, try to block off 90 minutes once a week. Then keep carving from there. I used to trade a few hours on other days to work a long Wednesday in exchange. That gave me a 12-hour day midweek and complete solitude from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday nights to really dig into something.

So why should you care about alpha brain waves? Because they help you get into flow, increase your productivity and performance, while barely feeling like effort at the same time. Bonus! According to this article you can increase your alpha waves!

Below are 7 tactics the author shares for increasing your alpha waves. Be sure to read the full article for more details. This stuff is pure gold and will…change…your…life!

  1. Create a mental cue
  2. Eliminate all distractions
  3. Work at your biological peak time
  4. Listen to (the right kind of) music
  5. Strategically consume caffeine
  6. Focus on a single task
  7. Stay hydrated

What might this look like IRL:

This is my best example which I have since replicated for work projects to great success.

At the intense peak of my dissertation writing, I wrote every day for at least the last three months. I’d usually write for 3-4 hours in my office after work before heading home and writing more if needed. I rarely wanted to get started, but after a while I was chugging along and stopping to go home was hard.

  • Mental cues: Closed my office door. Closed the blinds (you’ll see why in a moment). Took off my shoes. Played “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas. Danced and jumped around for the full 4 minutes and 28 seconds of the song. Sat down. Listened to “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz while taking some calming breathes.
  • Eliminate distractions: Undocked my laptop. Rotated my chair and put my laptop on the other side of my L-desk away from my monitor and other peripherals. Placed EVERYTHING ELSE non-school related on the chairs on the other side of my desk so nothing work related was in sight. I didn’t have a smartphone until April 2014 so phone distractions weren’t a thing yet.
  • Work at your biological peak time: I did my Ph.D. while working full-time. I discovered I did my best focused reading in the mornings and would go to the library from 7:30 to 9 a.m. to squeeze in pre-work reading. Then later in the process, all of my writing was done between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. As a night owl, my brain gets into flow the easiest after dark.
  • Listen to the right kind of music: After my warm-up tunes, I only used music when I had writer’s block. I used sound combinations on Noisli to spark different moods. And Ingrid Michaelson’s song “Keep Breathing” on repeat. Sometimes lyric-less techno if I got sleepy.
  • Strategically use caffeine: I have to be careful about caffeine as I don’t need any help staying up at night so I generally wouldn’t have any.
  • Focus on a single task: Each day I would end my session by emailing my dissertation chair a quick update on what I did, how it went, and what I planned to do the next day. The emails were incredibly effective accountability tools and gave me my launching off point the next day. Open the email, see what I said I would work on. Get to work on the first thing.
  • Stay hydrated: I always kept a large water bottle next to me and would use bathroom breaks or water refills as natural opportunities to stand and take a quick break.

When you can build focus time into your schedule to allow for deep work, you’re able to get into flow. You get tunnel vision and tune out distractions around you. You forget that you haven’t checked your phone incessantly. The report that you were dreading suddenly feels like it is writing itself!

You don’t have to take your shoes off or jump around to a song. What mental cues could you create to tell your brain, “Now, it’s time to focus. See this cue I’m giving you every time I want you to focus, Brain?”

It isn’t easy building focus time or single-tasking when people and projects are constantly pulling on you. But it is worth exploring and experimenting because it will make you more productive and effective.

You’ll also get better at ignoring distracting thoughts as you strengthen your focusing skills. I love this line from the article,

Think of your mind like a park bench, where you can control which thoughts are allowed to sit down. You let all of the others just walk past.

Jonathan Thompson
A black and white photo of a wooden bench in a park with grass growing underneath it.
Photo by Paweu0142 L. on Pexels.com

Rewiring Your Brain

Nowww we can talk about neuroplasticity!

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and restructure itself, to learn and adapt. According to the article, recent research believes we may be able to improve our cognitive function as we get older. That’s exciting compared to the previous belief that after a certain age, we only lost cells and pathways.

Imagine your brain as a colossal power grid. Billions of pathways light up every time you think, feel, or do something. Putting neuroplasticity into action means carving new pathways, while strengthening the best of the existing ones – and not reinforcing the pathways you’d rather avoid. This is captured in an aphorism: “Neurons that fire together, wire together; neurons that fire out of synch, fail to link.” 

Jonathan Thompson, author of “9 Neuroplasticity Exercises to Boost Productivity”

How can you get started wiring together new neurons and firing off more synapses? Below are the 9 techniques cited in the article. Dig into the details by clicking the link to the article above.

9 Techniques to “Rewire” Your Brain

  1. Feed your brain
  2. Take naps
  3. Don’t let the work day linger
  4. Expand your vocabulary
  5. Use the “wrong” hand
  6. Learn to juggle
  7. Play chess
  8. Do mnemonic drills
  9. Be mindful, as a team

One way to be mindful as a team is with Thrive Reset. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Alright folks! That’s it until next week…unless you want to scroll a little further and read the cheesy tribute I wrote my old phone. Ha! Happy Wednesday!

A picture of a silver metal bar phone with the words "Good bye!" on the screen.

*My tribute to my phone on April 11, 2014. I really loved that thing!

Farewell my dear little Motorola L2 (Oct. 1, 2006 to April 9, 2014). I’d say we had good run. You’ve been there for me through two degrees and visited more countries than my husband. You’ve connected me to friends and family from as far as the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town. You helped me accept my job at Truman, share the news of my engagement, plan my wedding, and schedule my dissertation defense. We’ve been through so much together but sadly you’ve said “Hey pretty lady” to me for the last time. I know you are still on your original battery and the best phone that ever lived but it was just time to finally upgrade. You will be missed!

E-Notes: On Saying No, Wanting to Fix a Broken System, and Grounding Yourself

When was the last time you took time to really be proud of yourself and what you’ve accomplished recently? Maybe you’ve been training for a race and it turned out great. Or maybe you’ve successfully navigated the first year of parenthood…or planned a wedding or major event and it turned out perfectly. Maybe you’ve written a grant that was awarded or earned a certification or had a good evaluation at work. Maybe the garden is planted, the lawn is mowed, and the bird feeder is filled. Good for you! Woohoo! For some of you, the past couple weeks have brought hardship, loss, or illness. Be proud that you’re doing your best and take the time you need to rest and heal. Whatever your recent accomplishments, I hope you will take a moment to feel proud of your effort.

Saying No

First up this week, I want to share some key points from Shane Parrish’s blog post, “The Focus to Say No” which made me stop and think. And anything that makes me do that, gets shared with you, Dear Reader!

The difference between average results and exceptional ones is what you avoid. Saying no to mediocre opportunities is easy. Saying no to good opportunities is hard.

We all have the same number of hours in a week. What separates people is how they use them.

You can do anything but you can’t do everything.

Shane Parrish, Farnam Street blog

You should be very selective with what you say yes to. In fact, Shane argues, you should always have a reason to say yes. He suggests that every time you agree to something, you should actually say the words “I am choosing to say yes because…” so you have to articulate the honest reason. Doing this will help you recognize when you should be saying no.

Shane’s idea may remind my fellow Derek Sivers fans of his famous rule, “If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something, say no.” (He’s now expanded the idea into a book too.)

Or Steve Jobs, who said, “Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

The ultimate goal is to become more discerning so that you have more time to do something amazing! As Shane says,

“Only a master will say no to good opportunities. If you don’t say no to good opportunities, you’ll never have the time to pursue great opportunities.”

A black chalkboard with the words Yes and No written on it. The word Yes is crossed out.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Wanting to Fix a Broken System

Charlie Warzel and his wife, Anne Helen Petersen, recently wrote the book, Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home. With the release of the book, articles from and interviews with Charlie came across my radar but I only caught up with them in the past week. I wanted to share a few points of interest.

First, let me admit that I have not read the book and I may not get to it…at least for a while. Sorry! I have a large stack already on my bookcase. Saying no includes to books too.

In one of his articles titled, “What If People Don’t Want a Career?,” Charlie explored ideas around work, hustle culture, poor management, and the perspective of being an anticareerist that are worth checking out. He also dug into a Fortune article that I refuse to even link to because it represented so much that I disagree with. Grr!

Overall, what resonated with him through his book research and latest journalistic forays was that workers now may have a little leverage and they are asking important questions about how a career or work interacts with sense of self and worthiness.

That part I 100% understand! As someone who left her position as a vice president to move to her favorite town and live her happiest life, I made a HUGE shift in my priorities. My career may never be the same because of this decision. (Or maybe it’ll turn out to be even better.) Even today, I was pinching myself that it’s all real. That we took the leap and that we get to live in our happy place every day. I don’t think I’d describe myself as anticareerist, but living here is my top priority right now and my job, while still very important to me, must fit around that.

In his article, Charlie notes,

When you talk to people who reject the modern notion of a career, many of them say the same thing: They crave more balance, less precarity, and better pay. They also, crucially, want to work. But they want to work for places that see them as three-dimensional human beings and that actually invest in them and their futures without expecting workers to sacrifice everything. They want to be a part of organizations that recognize that meaningful and collaborative work can bring dignity and create value but that work is by no means the only way to cultivate satisfaction and self-worth.

Charlie Warzel, “What If People Don’t Want a Career?”

For more from Charlie, HR Brew’s (Morning Brew’s HR newsletter) interview with him titled, “The Way We Work Isn’t Working – Author Charlie Warzel Blames Middle Management” is worth reading. I think his description of middle managers being promoted without any supervisory training or experience will sound familiar to some of you!

Grounding Yourself

The last topic for this week is about grounding techniques. No, not the type of grounding related to walking in the dirt or grass barefoot to change the electric charge of your body. Or ground living (Tony Riddle is amazing!) which Jason and I have even partly embraced.

Grounding techniques refer to ways to refocus your attention, calm yourself, and relieve stress and anxiety. I’m going to share a few of my favorites but there are many more. Find one that works for you and use it the next time you feel a wave of overwhelm building or you’re having an anxious thought loop.

5-4-3-2-1 is one of my favorite grounding techniques and it works wonders if you’re experiencing a negative thought loop. I also use it for discomfort on a run. It involves paying attention to each of your senses in a particular order:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can feel
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

This exercise helps you refocus your mind to the present and it helps you reset your thoughts. If you forget the order that’s okay. I try to remember it as taste being the hardest to have multiples of without putting something in your mouth. (I usually only taste my stress breath when I’m doing this technique. Ha!) Smell also can be hard to get more than two smells if you aren’t moving but you can see, feel, and hear multiple things even if you are seated in one spot. If you spent this much time thinking about the order though, I bet you’ll have reset your thoughts a little already.

54321 isn’t as easy to do when you’re in bed, unable to sleep because the hamsters are sprinting full tilt on the wheel in your brain. That’s where Box Breathing or Square Breathing comes in. It can help you calm down, relieve stress, and ease anxiety.

A white square canvas being held by a left hand at the bottom and a right hand to the right over a wooden background.
Photo by Angela Roma on Pexels.com

As you are doing the exercise, imagine drawing a box with your breath or your finger. Repeat this for 4 to 5 squares and see how much better you feel.

  1. Breathe In for 4 counts
  2. Hold (air in) for 4 counts
  3. Breathe Out for 4 counts
  4. Hold (air out) for 4 counts

The final strategy I use all of the time, including every week while I write this blog, is to listen to a song on repeat. I typically use a song loop for focus, comfort, or support and I have different songs for each. It is also one of my top strategies for writer’s block that I picked up when writing my dissertation.

Do you have any grounding techniques that you use regularly? What thoughts are you having about your career lately? Are you someone who struggles with saying no? What would help you in any of the areas we touched on this week? Let me know in the comments or get in touch.

I appreciate you sticking with me to the end of today’s post. Happy Wednesday!

E-Notes: On Creativity and Impostership, Decision Prioritization, and a Mantra for Every Encounter

It’s June 1st! How did that happen? I feel like it was mid-March just yesterday and then I blinked and we’re in June. Wow!

This week I’m sharing three ideas from three of my favorite influences: Shane Parrish, John Amaechi OBE, and Seth Godin.

Creativity and Impostership

I’ll start us off with a quote from Seth that I love so much! He mentioned this comment during a LinkedIn Learning course called “Creativity at Work: A Short Course from Seth Godin” and I truly appreciate his reframe of impostership.

“Do not try to find a way to not feel like an imposter. Of course you feel that way…because you are one. You’re an imposter and so am I! Because if you are solving a problem that’s never been solved before, how can you prove that you have the right answer? You can’t! No one is more competent than you to look into the unknown. When you feel like an imposter, that’s good news…because it means you’re onto something. When you feel like an imposter that means that you have a shot at doing something other people aren’t willing to do. You cannot run the Boston Marathon without getting tired and you cannot be creative without feeling, at some level, like an imposter.” 

Seth Godin, Creativity at Work course on LinkedIn Learning

Decision Prioritization

I’ve been talking with a few people lately about one of the hardest parts of being a higher ed administrator, having time to do anything besides sit in a meeting or put out fires. Time to think can be a rare luxury and you’re already struggling to squeeze in going to the bathroom, eating lunch, and catching your breathe while physically hustling from place to place. There’s time to think and ideate only after you’ve solved everyone else’s problems and gotten your own urgent tasks done.

A white male sitting on a white couch with his fingers at his temples and black glasses in his hand
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

It doesn’t have to be this way. Building a schedule that you run rather than the other way around, takes effort, boundaries, and support. And yes, it may include asking your boss to approve hiring a new person to take over one of the three jobs you’re doing. Or even relinquishing some of your duties or divisions you oversee, in order to give you more time and focused attention for the rest of your employees and projects.

One helpful strategy requires reviewing the decisions on your to do list and evaluating which ones can be delegated and which decisions YOU need to make.

Shane Parrish created The Decision Matrix as a tool to help him identify which decisions he needed to make and which could be delegated to others. One important takeaway…delegation isn’t foisting your work on others. When you delegate properly, you foster buy-in, let others test their ideas, build confidence, and over time you build a community of strong decision makers. Shane found that when using the matrix, the number of total decisions stayed the same, his team’s ability to make decisions improved, and the number of decisions he made declined significantly.

A matrix with four quadrants. The top left quadrant says Consequential and Reversible, top right - Consequential and Irreversible, bottom left - Inconsequential and Reversible, and bottom right - Inconsequential and Irreversible.
My mockup of Shane Parrish’s Decision Matrix

On a piece of paper, draw the matrix above. Write a list of all of the decisions you need to make this week. Do a total brain dump…get it all down on the page, no matter how small or monumental. Next, consider each item on the list and which quadrant it falls under. You can code them as CI, CR, IR, and II, use different symbols, or write decisions in their respective quadrant.

All of the decisions under Inconsequential and Reversible and Inconsequential and Irreversible can be delegated to your team. People might make mistakes. Let them make the decision and use it as a teachable moment to improve their decision making skills for next time. When possible, Shane recommends delegating to the person most affected by the decision.

For decisions that are Consequential and Reversible, take time to gather more information and if possible, break the decision down and delegate any smaller inconsequential components.

That leaves the Consequential and Irreversible decisions, which you should make and now you have the time to give these your attention.

If you want to further analyze your priorities, you can use the Eisenhower Matrix in conjunction with Shane’s Decision Matrix. The Eisenhower Matrix breaks down decisions and tasks by urgency and importance.

A Mantra for Every Encounter

You’ve freed up some time on your schedule using The Decision Matrix. One impactful use of your time is to support, coach, and mentor your employees. To swivel your chair as we’ve already learned from John Amaechi OBE.

In The Promises of Giants, John tells the memorable story of a private driver who showed him how small gestures can make an immense impact on an interaction. In this case, the driver had spelled his name correctly on the sign and accounted for his height by adjusting the seats in the car.

As the driver pulled away from the airport with John comfortably seated with extra legroom, he said the phrase “POB” into the radio. When John asked what that stood for, the driver said, “Passenger on board. It means I’ve got you.”

John said,

“It provided a clear illustration of the impact that can be made simply by putting a little more thought and care into the time you share with others. It doesn’t take much really. With a bit more focus and a few modifications, you can make it clear to anyone you engage with that you’ve got them. You’re not just occupying the same space and trading words back and forth. You’ve got them. They are safe and valued and heard and seen and appreciated as an individual.”

John Amaechi OBE

John was so impacted by this moment, he created his own acronym for POB from Preparation, Orientation, and Behavior. It helps him ensure he’s “got” everyone he encounters.

P = Preparation involves thinking ahead about the encounter and getting into the right mindset and mood. He asks, “How do you want the person to feel during your time with them? What would you like for them to get out of the conversation?” He also recommends being hyper aware of your affect especially if you are meeting on screen.

O = Orientation involves swiveling your chair. You need to physically orient to the person, place your phone out of sight, close your email, and meet them eye to eye.

B = Behavior involves giving physical cues that they have your undivided attention. John says to set them at ease and hold your expressions longer on video chat so they can see you

John emphasizes that POB – Preparation, Orientation, and Behavior is “a mantra that should whisper in your ear leading up to and during each and every interaction.”

What strategies do you use to open up space on your calendar? Have you succeeded in asking for and receiving support at work? What mantra plays in your head as a leader? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy June 1st everyone!

E-Notes: On Inner Dialogues, Turning Off the TV, and Sacrifices for Success

While running with a friend on Sunday, we got to talking about the inner dialogues we’d had lately. Do you have conversations with yourself, weighing whether or not to do something? It could all be in your head, or if you’re by yourself, maybe you talk to yourself out loud or under your breath. Sometimes it might be encouragement such as “You’ve got this!” or “You’re gonna do great!” During long trail races, I definitely talk to myself out loud…and I make up songs. Ha!

Inner Dialogues

One of my inner dialogues had been the week before while my husband and I were traveling to Vegas for a short trip to see friends. While some recent travel and other schedule disruptions have derailed some of my daily tasks, I’ve still been sticking to the eating healthy/not drinking part of the plan. After visits to Atlanta, Wisconsin, and then Vegas, I was feeling limited by my health challenge when I’m supposed to be on vacation (aka the time healthy habits typically take some time off too). The prospect of ordering a cobb salad and not getting to order French fries or a giant fried chicken sandwich made me feel surprisingly sad.

Leo Babauta would have been proud of me. I paused and noticed what I was feeling. I sat with the feeling, stayed with the yucky emotions, and thought through how comforting myself with a giant fried chicken sandwich was not what I really wanted. I was gentle with myself about almost cheating and thought about how well I’ve done with my eating goals. And I recognized that being hungry, a lack of sleep from the night before (from staying up to finish this blog), and a long day of travel hadn’t helped how I was feeling. (Hmm…it seems like there’s an acronym for this.)

By this point, my cobb salad and ice tea had come out and they were delicious. I felt much better…and I may have stolen one of the burnt crunchies from my husband’s fries. Even when life is going great overall, you may be working through some hairy thoughts and feelings and even though this may show up as a fry craving, there’s usually something else to unpack too. It’s important to pay attention, notice, and be kind to yourself when you experience negative emotions like these.

Turning Off the TV

Our running conversation also included the idea of inner dialogues around the question, “Who do you want to be as a person?”

What type of person do you want to be? What are your goals and what can you do to meet them? Are there things/beliefs/habits/people getting in the way of your goals?

In the past when my husband and I wanted to adopt healthier habits or both had a lot of extra work to get done for something, we would put the TV back in its box and store it in the closet. We would get through the sprint and once our work was done, we’d set it back up. When we moved to Decorah, we debated whether to sell our TV. Ultimately we decided to move it since it worked fine but we agreed that it would go in the basement so our living room upstairs could be focused on conversation and reading.

We had long ago stopped eating in front of the TV but we would typically watch an episode or two together sometime between dinner and bedtime. And of course Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBOMax, Disney+, Apple+, and company have entertaining shows. And I get that for many people, after a long day of work and running kids around, it is an easy activity to veg out and watch some shows.

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

For me, TV binging was the biggest habit getting in the way of my goals and it was often coupled with two other non-helpful habits, drinking and late night snacking. Since the beginning of January, I’ve watched a movie or two and a couple episodes of one show. By cutting out TV, I’ve had time for things like weekly mentoring chats, this blog, online trainings, and volunteering for Girls on the Run. I’ve read more nonfiction books…on the couch with my cat, a blanket, and a cup of tea. (Lovely!) I’ve gone on more walks. My running and swimming already fit around my TV watching, but thanks to the residual changes from not drinking or late night snacking, my swimming has improved and I may set a PR in my half marathon this weekend.

I want to read Atomic Habits by James Clear. I appreciated his ideas in Part 1 and Part 2 on Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast. There are two quotes from Part 1 that I want to share with you related to today’s topics. James pointed out,

The difference between eating a burger and fries for lunch or eating a salad on any given day is pretty insignificant, your body looks the same in the mirror at the end of the night, the scale hasn’t really changed, it’s only two or five or 10 years later that you’re like, ‘Oh, those daily choices really do add up.’ It’s kind of like you go through your daily routine and then three years later, it’s like, ‘Knock, knock, who’s there?’ ‘Oh, the consequences of my past decisions’….that pattern of what starts out small and seems relatively insignificant, grows and accumulates into something bigger….it’s a double-edged sword, your habits can either build you up or cut you down, and I think that’s a strong reason, a good argument for why you want to understand what they are and how they work and how to design them, so that you can be the architect of your habits and not the victim of them.

James Clear, Part 1 on Dare to Lead podcast with Brené Brown

Sacrifices for Success

The second quote from James Clear will probably be revisited in future posts once I have read the book. I love this idea and it certainly makes it into my inner dialogues:

Every action we take is like a vote for the type of person we wish to become. Your habits are how you embody a particular identity. So every day that you make your bed, you embody the identity of someone who is clean and organized.  Every day that you send an attagirl to somebody on your team, you embody the identity of someone who is a caring leader.  Every day that you go to the gym, even if it’s just for five minutes, you embody the identity of someone who doesn’t miss workouts. So in this way, our behaviors are like they’re casting votes for the story that we’re telling ourselves, and I think ultimately, at the deepest level, this is the real reason that habits matter. 

James Clear, Part 1 on Dare to Lead podcast with Brené Brown

As I brainstorm ideas for each week’s post, I skim through my items in Evernote because I’ve been using it for 10 years of curation. I saw this article, “13 Things You Need to Give Up if You Want to be Successful,” saved from 2016 and I had to share it. The author, Zdravko Cvijetic, put together an excellent list. I was proud to notice that he tied in quotes and details that I also thought of as I was reading some of the items. I highly recommend you read the entire article. Here’s his list as a preview:

  1. Give Up On The Unhealthy Lifestyle
  2. Give Up The Short-term Mindset
  3. Give Up On Playing Small
  4. Give Up Your Excuses
  5. Give Up The Fixed Mindset
  6. Give Up Believing In The “Magic Bullet.”
  7. Give Up Your Perfectionism
  8. Give Up Multi-tasking
  9. Give Up Your Need to Control Everything
  10. Give Up On Saying YES To Things That Don’t Support Your Goals
  11. Give Up The Toxic People
  12. Give Up Your Need To Be Liked
  13. Give Up Your Dependency on Social Media & Television

Thank you for reading this week’s post. If you made it this far, through all the feels, habits and sacrifices then check out this video to reward yourself with a little humor. Happy Wednesday! Don’t forget to subscribe to this newsletter if you haven’t already and pass it on to anyone you think might enjoy it!

E-Notes: On What If?, Making It Better, and Success and Growth Through Turbulence

You may remember the ikigai Venn diagram by Dan Pink shared in my first blog post. The overlapping circles are 1) What You Love to Do, 2) What You’re Good At, 3) What You Can Be Paid For, and 4) What the World Needs. I worked out a draft of my own ikigai and one of the key elements was “thinking beyond ‘We’ve always done it that way’ to ‘What if?’” (If you want to see the latest draft of my ikigai brainstorm, it is posted on my LinkedIn profile in the About Me section)

I’m pretty sure my 4th grade teacher didn’t appreciate this key element of mine. It was a very rough year. Sadly the few memories I have involve her telling me that I didn’t follow the directions properly or that I could not be creative/do something a little differently on an assignment or project.

Thankfully the next year, I met two of my all-time favorite and most influential teachers, Mrs. Cummings, my 5th grade teacher, and Mr. Cox, one of my band teachers who I luckily had for several years. These two teachers supported my pursuit of creative thinking and of questioning the way things have always been done, and challenged me to put in the work to do great things.

It is with this lens of “What If?” that I approach this week’s post. Some of the What If? questions floating around in my head involve considerations for higher education institutions. Every sector probably has their own ways they’ve always done something that they are resistant to change. Since I know higher education, my thoughts veer that direction.

What If?

One important question that I find to be an interesting thought experiment is, “What if there are no more students/revenue/funding/________? What if you have to work with what you’ve got?”

  • What if a college or university only has the students they have currently recruited? (As in there aren’t last minute transfers, midyear students, more students next year, etc. to make up a difference.)
  • What would you do differently to make sure each of those students are retained and graduate?
  • What would that level of support entail from faculty and staff? What ways of always doing something are you suddenly willing to change?
  • What would you do if you couldn’t count on those students being replaced by next year’s incoming class because next year will be fewer students?
  • If each year’s incoming class gets smaller and smaller, at what point do you finally accept that the college or university will never return to the size it was in _____ (fill in the blank for the year you think of) and adjust your enrollment goals (and budget) to a smaller size? Or pivot in a completely new direction where new students may exist?
  • When will the institution be willing to explore helping adults earn a degree they started years ago?
  • What will it take to grant transfer credit and award credit for prior learning and life experiences to help those adults graduate sooner? Why wait until they are adults and instead promote credit for prior learning opportunities to high school students? Especially since non-profits like Modern States help pay for high school students to earn credit by examination and many high schools offer Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs?
  • When business and industry is moving away from requiring a degree for many positions and creating their own credentials and qualifications for employment, how does higher education justify requiring someone to go back and retake general education classes because their credits have “expired” from the first time they took the course in college when they were 18?
  • Among the key findings found in a recent survey by Morning Consult and EdChoice was,
    • “Despite the pandemic’s influence, about half of teens still plan on attending college after high school. However, fewer teens are inclined to do so now (-8 points) than they were before the pandemic.”
      • How do college’s compete for the attention of those teens who are still considering college?
      • How can you engage those who aren’t thinking about college right now so they think of you if/when they do decide to go to school?
  • That same survey found,
    • “Teens are split on their preferences between full-time regular schooling and hybrid schooling. One out of 10 say they do not want to attend school in person similar to the level observed in September 2021.”
    • 48% of students wanted school 5 days per week while 41% wanted to stay home at least one day of school in a hybrid format.
    • Another interesting finding was 56% of surveyed students said hands-on learning was the best way they can learn in school, followed next by group learning.
      • How does that compare to the structure of their college classes?
      • What changes are being made today in higher education to prepare for these students who are about to graduate? Schedules, technology, pedagogy, and curriculum all are affected by a new group of students who are arriving at the door this fall…hopefully.

As blasphemous (and scary) as some of these questions are, as funding, demographics, and popular opinion shift, higher education institutions must be thinking about things from new angles. All of this is extremely complicated and I’ve only hit the lower hanging fruit with some enrollment/retention areas. There are many other broken parts to the system (not to mention the ever changing influences of politics, governance, and accreditation) but I still maintain hope that the “make it better” camp that Seth talks about below, will be able to bring about change. It will take change…immediate and extreme change in many cases.

In the words of Lavar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Here are a few recent articles in Inside Higher Ed that caught my eye on this topic.

Some of you may remember hearing a statistic from a 2018 report that, “85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.” What jobs in higher education will exist in 2030 that haven’t been invented yet? How does higher education prepare students for the jobs of the future? Here’s one solution…

You can’t teach about things that don’t exist yet, but you can teach someone to learn how to learn.

Leo SaLemi

Making It Better

Seth Godin believes in our abilities to make things better, but some people would rather be off the hook.

When things get difficult, is your instinct to invest the effort to make it better, or to set a trap so it all gets worse?

Because if things get worse, well, then you won’t have to deal with them much longer.

And if things get worse, then you’re off the hook.

No longer your problem.

If we don’t trust ourselves with making it better, if it’s too fraught with risk or emotionally painful, it might feel easier and simpler to simply make it worse and walk away.

Investing in a system, a place, a relationship, a project–that’s a commitment. It puts you even more on the hook. That person who is right in front of you becomes more real and the problem becomes even more urgent.

And it might even be worth it.

Seth Godin’s blog post “Better/worse

“I find myself wanting to be in the make it better camp and then one more thing happens that feels like hitting a wall and I end up questioning whether all the hard work and toil is worth it. Then I keep trying to make it better largely because of you and the others who are constantly working to improve the place.”

Anonymous, comment accompanying shared post
Picture of an black man dressed in a black suit jacket and a white shirt with his head against a wall
Photo by Gevorg on Pexels.com

And finally, from John Amaechi, a vivid description of what it takes to succeed and grow in turbulent times.

Success and Growth Through Turbulence

…success and growth through turbulence requires teams, colleagues, collaboration, and leadership. Anything less will be inadequate in the face of heightened competition, geopolitical instability, cyberthreats, digital disrupters, volatile markets, increased automation, and evolving expectations from both your workforce and clientele. Tectonic shifts are taking place and to effectively respond to such perpetual and dramatic change, we must be honest about who we are and what we’re working with.”

John Amaechi OBE, author of The Promises of Giants

Thank you for reading! Please get in touch if you want to brainstorm solutions or share worries for the future of higher education or whichever industry you are in that may be facing similar challenges. There are no easy answers but there are answers.

E-Notes: On Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and the Cult of Busy

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published a report about Tiktok’s work culture. I’m not a WSJ subscriber so I haven’t read the full article, but the Morning Brew cited a statistic that blew me away. Former Tiktok employees told reporters they averaged 85 hours of meetings per week. What?! Why?!

Exhaustion as a Status Symbol

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown shares ten guideposts for wholehearted living. (I highly recommend the book and her podcast series discussing the book with her sisters is also fun.) One of those guideposts is “Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth.” I’ve listened to the book twice and this guidepost is still one of the hardest for me.

I’ve spent my life almost entirely focused on work (or juggling work and school, and extensive hours driving to both, in order to be prepared for future work opportunities.) Before my first job, I juggled clubs and organizations with school like they were a full-time job beginning in elementary school…there’s a reason this guidepost is hard.

At times, I sacrificed my mind, body, and spirit for previous jobs. Often impacting my physical and mental health and the amount of attention I contributed to my marriage, friendships, and community.

I no longer want to define my self-worth by my productivity. When someone asks how I’m doing, and I answer honestly (instead of “Busy!” or “Doing great!”), I no longer want to describe myself as “drowning but still getting sips of air through a straw” or “feeling frayed” as if someone could unravel me at any moment.

Photo by Daisa TJ on Pexels.com

I am an extremely productive and efficient worker. I don’t have to be exhausted or work constantly to be productive. I am a hard-working, resilient leader who gives the utmost dedication to my job, my employer, and my team. I am not going to stop pushing an organization forward, meeting deadlines, or being highly effective. However, I will no longer sacrifice relationships with my husband, family, friends, or colleagues for work. I will be vigilant about my time and very conscious about whether a project, meeting, or email is necessary, then set boundaries around when I will get the work done.

I know I will be a better leader for my next team because of the reflection and learning I’ve done around this topic in the past year. I apologize to anyone in the past who did not get my full attention/whose idea could not be implemented because I only had so much bandwidth. If it makes you feel any better, I remember those moments, they haunt me, and I will do better in the future.

I will no longer book my calendar so full of meetings that I can barely go the bathroom and arrive late to every meeting out of breath. I will slow down and swivel my chair. I will create space in my day for conversations about you, what you need, and how I can help you. I have worked for and been mentored by college presidents who model this type of focused attention very well. After meeting with them, I always feel heard, valued, and supported and I must do a better job of doing this for others.

As John Amaechi OBE says,

“You cannot hope to effectively lead others to sustained success if you are neglecting the needs of your own wellbeing.”

From The Promises of Giants by John Amaechi OBE

Brené is certainly practicing what she preaches. Check out today’s announcement about the Brené Brown Research Group’s summer sabbatical. In the post, Brené shares her reasons and the plans for not only her, but the organization too. Here’s an excerpt:

“And, to make sure we have a critical mass of restorative time in our organization, we’re closing the offices every Friday for paid time off, and everyone in the organization has been asked to take four weeks of paid vacation time this summer, in addition to their normal vacation time.

To make this work across our organization, we are going dark on social media effective today. We are also going on a podcast hiatus over the summer. We will be back on social and return to podcasting again after Labor Day.”

“Creating Space” by Brené Brown

If you want to read a very informative article about how you can evaluate the policies driving the work culture at the individual, team, and organizational level, please read “Exhaustion is Not a Status Symbol” by Melissa Boggs.

One organizational change not mentioned in Melissa’s article is replacing employees when they leave. As mentioned in “To Those Who Have Stayed” in The Repository last week, in higher education when someone leaves, that person’s duties are absorbed by the remaining staff. This is one practice that greatly impacts a person’s ability to avoid exhaustion and be effective, as they are now doing the jobs of two and sometimes three people. And yes, we will voluntarily agree to take on the duties because we want to “make ourselves valuable” and help the organization. Doing one job…the one you were hired for, should be enough.

When someone leaves, reflect on what positions and duties are now needed based on the skills of the remaining team. Update the remaining team’s job descriptions including the removal of some duties in exchange for new duties. Then identify the duties that will be covered by the new hire…because there should be a new hire to replace the person who left. Do not only pile on more. Everyone benefits if employees aren’t overextended and overworked.

If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to join me in letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. We will be better, healthier leaders leading healthier organizations with healthier employees, if we can embrace this guidepost.

The Cult of Busy

In The Promises of Giants, John Amaechi describes the trouble created when we know our jobs but are so busy we can’t see the forest for the trees.

“As we become more skilled in the technical demands of our work and more familiar with the routines of our workplaces, there is a natural tendency towards desensitization. It becomes easier to put on blinders and to operate on autopilot when carrying out responsibilities that have become habitual. Add to this toxic stew, the cult of busy, which mandates that all serious professionals look and sound like they have no time to breathe and you have a recipe for disaster.”

You better believe Seth Godin has some things to say about the topic of being busy.

Seth Godin’s post “Business/busyness” includes a good quote,

“Busy is not your job. Busy doesn’t get you what you seek. Busy isn’t the point. Value creation is.

You only get today once. Your team does too. How will you spend it?”

From “Business/busyness” by Seth Godin

In another post, “Busy is not the point,” he emphasizes there are no points for busy.

There’s a common safe place: Being busy.

We’re supposed to give you a pass because you were full on, all day. Frantically moving from one thing to the other, never pausing to catch your breath, and now you’re exhausted.

No points for busy.

Points for successful prioritization. Points for efficiency and productivity. Points for doing work that matters.

No points for busy.

Seth Godin’s “Busy is not the point”

How can we work together to remove the emphasis placed on exhaustion, overwork, and busyness? What commitments can we make to model healthy workloads, to protect our teams, and to change how we answer the question “How are things going?” I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and as always thank you for reading.

Interested in digging into The Gifts of Imperfection? Check out The Whole Hearted Inventory and catch up on the 6-part series on Unlocking Us while the podcasts are on hiatus.