Lisa DeAngelis, Director

UMass Boston | College of Management | Center for Collaborative Leadership

May 4, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

Why build purposeful relationships?


In a schedule packed with networking events, meetings, email and social media, who has time to think about building purposeful relationships?! How many times have you been somewhere, met someone, exchanged business cards and/or connected via LinkedIn, only to later look at their information with a blank stare asking yourself, “Who is this person? Where did we meet? Why did we connect?”

One of the tenets of the Center for Collaborative Leadership’s purpose statement is to inspire and challenge you to build purposeful relationships. Two questions that we often receive as a result of this statement are:

  • What is a purposeful relationship, and
  • Why does the center care?

A purposeful relationship is one where people benefit from knowing each other. I’m not talking here about the transactional, reciprocal, quid pro quo relationship where I do something because I expect that you’ll do something for me. Rather, I am talking about the deeper, more meaningful relationships where I do something for you because I can, and because I know that the parties involved will be better off for it.

These are the people that, when you are in a conversation with someone and they mention something, you instantly think, “I’ve got to introduce this person to so and so. The two of you need to know one another.” The benefit, for me, is that I am able to make that connection; that I am able to put people together who can further each others work, thinking, and – hopefully – good in the world. This leads to the second question, why does the center care?

Ultimately, the work of the center is to help develop better leaders and citizens. We believe that no effective leader, now or into the future, leads alone. The best leaders are those who are expansive and inclusive, who build purposeful relationships with those whose experiences and beliefs differ from their own. This allows them to challenge their own thinking and, ultimately, to be able to come to better solutions.

Building purposeful relationships takes effort. First, you need to be curious, to genuinely take an interest in the people you meet. You need to build trust, such that you will give thoughtful consideration when their insights differ from your own. And, finally, you’ll need to stay connected.

Staying connected isn’t all encompassing, but it is deliberate. Send them an article you’ve read that you think may be of interest to them; acknowledge their promotion/board work/other PR that you may learn about them; introduce them to someone with a common interest to theirs.

So, as you head to your next event, conference, meeting, etc., I invite you to re-think your strategy for ‘working the room.’

March 15, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

Happiness is Not a Finish Line


Whenever my schedule permits, I thoroughly enjoy listening to podcasts. One that I am particularly fond of is the TED Radio Hour. I recently listened to the segment entitled, “To Endure.” As usual, they had assembled three compelling speakers to share their stories of endurance. The segment that I want to focus on in this blog is that of Ben Saunders. For those who may have never heard of Ben, he is a polar explorer. In this particular TED talk he shares his experience trying to replicate the Scott Expedition to the South Pole (Scott was first to discover the South Pole). While the entire interview is well worth listening to, one learning of Saunders caught my attention. As he describes it,

“What this long walk taught me is that happiness is not a finish line.
If we cannot feel content on our journey’s,
amidst the mess and the striving that we all inhabit,
the open loops, the half-finished to-do lists,
the could-do-better-next-times,
then we might never feel it.”

While many of us may never embark on a polar expedition, we all have goals – some we set and some are set for us. Take a moment, think about a goal you’ve recently completed. For the purpose of this exercise, the goal itself is less relevant – whether it be hitting a revenue target, saving for something special, quitting smoking, or getting a promotion. My bet is that you had that momentary exhilaration of, YES, I DID IT! And then you reflected, perhaps a bit in awe, of your ability to actually make it happen. And, even if you fell short of the goal, as Saunders asserts he did in this expedition, you are still able to learn so much about the person you’ve become along the way.

To illustrate, let’s explore the example of getting a promotion. Whether or not you got the promotion, my bet is that you may have explored one or more of these trails on your ‘long walk,’ perhaps raised your hand to participate on high visibility project teams, offered to take on new responsibilities, trained others on the team, and showcased your accomplishments differently. And yet we become so focused on attaining the goal that we lose sight of all that we are learning about ourselves and the world around us, simply by making the effort. The gift of pausing along the walk and reflecting is that you are able to see how far you’ve come, how much you’ve learned, and how you may be changing because of the journey.

As Saunders’ story illustrates, the goal isn’t the finish line, it’s just a guide post on your journey. It’s about discovering more of your self; more of what you’re capable of; more of your potential. So, how will you identify and work toward goals that bring you closer to realizing your best self?

February 23, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

The Art of Being a Compassionate Leader


In my last blog I shared a bit of my reflections from a seminar delivered by Daniel Goleman. In this blog I’d like to explore another facet of his remarks. Goleman dedicated a significant amount of his time to speak of the need to act from compassion. He shared a study where six-month old children were placed in their mother’s laps and shown two cartoons. In the first cartoon the children see a circle struggling to climb a mountain. Along comes a triangle, which helps the circle to make the ascent. In the second cartoon, the children see the same circle struggling to climb the mountain. They then see a square come along and push past the circle on it’s own ascent up the mountain. Next the children are given three objects to play with – a circle, a triangle and a square. Overwhelmingly the children chose the triangle. The findings of the research are that children understand kindness and compassion at an early age. We socialize it out of them in our schools, our sports, and our activities. While Goleman is taking an active role in working with school systems to address this, I’d encourage us to think about how we, as leaders, are acting from a place of kindness and compassion each day.

In order for us to be able to act from compassion we need to be both aware of, and present with, those around us. As Goleman put it, “Time is not a chronological measure but a measure of presence.” We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day but how often do you find yourself thinking about the next meeting, a conversation you had (or need to have), a deliverable, versus being fully present?

In each moment we have an opportunity to be intentional and, as leaders, our behaviors have a ripple effect on those around us. Take the time to connect with your employees, offering support and guidance in helping them to realize their potential in service of the organizations common goals.

My invitation to you (and I will be working to do the same) is to be the triangle – spend your day mindfully, intentionally, focusing on each interaction as an opportunity to build relationship, to support others in their ascent. Think about the impact that this will have.

January 11, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

Something to think about


I’ve recently been reflecting on the Lesley University Sonnebend Fellowship Lecture that I attended earlier this year. The guest lecturer was Dr. Daniel Goleman. For those of you not familiar with Dr. Goleman, he is a prolific author whose book Emotional Intelligence was labeled one of the top twenty-five influential business books by Time Magazine.

While Dr. Goleman covered a great deal of ground in his brief lecture, I’d like to focus the attention of this blog on focus. Throughout Goleman’s remarks he shared multiple stories that had us reground ourselves in the present.

One example he called upon was a parable where a Native American elder is speaking to his grandson and says, “I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One is anger and the other love.” The child asks, “Which will win?” To which the elder says, “Whichever one I feed.” A comment that Goleman made to support this story summed it up wonderfully, “The world is full of everyday acts of kindness, it’s just not news.” So much of our world has been focused on what’s wrong, what’s broken, what’s not working and, the more we pay attention to those issues, the more of them we will see. Conversely, when we actively look for, and contribute to, acts of kindness (large or small), the more our perspective will change. I’m not talking about putting on rose-colored glasses or pretending that issues don’t exist, rather I’m suggesting that we each find ways to become part of the solution.

This time of year is naturally one where individuals, and organizations, re-focus their attention. This may be driven by New Year’s resolutions or the fiscal calendar; the reason is less relevant. The opportunity here lies in where we focus that attention. As I mentioned in the Talking Business Advice Series, reflecting on what went well – what we’d like to see more of – opens up thinking and creates possibilities; whereas, reflecting on what went wrong – what we’d like to avoid repeating – narrows thinking and creates a defensive posture. Since I offered organizational examples in that piece, I’ll offer an individual example here. In fact, I’ll offer a personal example. As the director of the center, one of my goals in building the brand of the center is to publish. Last year, I did meet the established goal for manuscript publications, but was inconsistent with other writing vehicles (such as blogs). I could spend my time focusing on why not, but a far more productive exercise is to ask myself what I learned, what worked, and what can be leveraged to increase success this year.

And, with that, I’d like to invite you to this process. What have you liked about these blogs? What would you like to see more of? What other topics have these blogs made you think of?

Most importantly, which wolf will you feed in 2016?

January 4, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

What Your Practices Say About Your Culture


The BBJ recently reported on Ropes & Gray’s year-end bonus program. As the reporter noted, this practice is not out of the norm for law firms. Why, then, did it catch his attention? As he frames it, “The kicker: It will toss in a little more to those lawyers who logged unusually long hours this year.” This got me to thinking about the culture that the industry is perpetuating – particularly as they strive to be more inclusive.

I’m curious as to how the associates have been included in this process. What are their intrinsic and extrinsic motivators? Might they want to be recognized for accomplishments rather than hours? Might they value time more than discretionary income? And, I am most curious about how those candidates who have chosen not to work in these environments would answer these questions.

The legal profession has long heralded the maximization of billable hours, despite the growing body of research refuting the sustainability of this practice. This established system excludes those who are not able, or willing, to dedicate themselves wholly to the profession in such an all-consuming way. I would hazard a guess that this may be a deterrent for talented, nontraditional individuals. In many cases, the exact individuals that the firms are working so hard to attract and retain.

The bonuses these law firms distribute, when multiplied by the number of associates and partners receiving them, are more than sufficient to hire additional staff. One thought might be that law firms earmark a portion of these funds to hire additional associates, enabling the associates to work more reasonable hours, while still allowing funds to be available for discretionary bonuses.

More systemic than this would be for the firms to engage those they are trying to attract and retain to understand what it is about their culture that is deterring them. I would suggest that they think broadly and creatively about this outreach – speaking to those that have left the organization, candidates that have rejected their offer, those studying for their law degree, and, perhaps even select high school seniors. The goal is to seek to understand how these individuals perceive the industry and, in particular, your organization. These discussions will begin to shape a composite that describes your culture – as defined by those that you wish to attract. The question then becomes, is this culture helping you achieve your vision and goals, over the long-term, or might you need to amend it.

December 18, 2015
by Lisa DeAngelis

Cultural Competency – not just about diversity and nationality

Recently I organized a cultural competency session for a group of emergent leaders in various industries in Greater Boston. I was not the facilitator, so luckily I had the opportunity to listen and learn along with the attendees. I already knew that culture had a broader definition than referencing diversity and nationality, but the session gave me pause to reflect upon culture within an organization – particularly given my move from the corporate world to the new planet of academia at a state run university.

While my current role is situated in a university, the center I lead is very much business oriented, and as such, I apply the working style that I have developed in my many years in the private sector. Does that style work here? Not so much. I am bumping up against a vastly different culture. I’m not saying that in a negative way, and this is not a reflection on the institution, rather on my surprise that it took my sitting in this session for the light bulb to go on for me as to why I was struggling.

As one faculty member explained to me, academia is about engaging in a dialogue. Academicians are incredibly cognizant of the historical markers that have led to the current conversation; whatever that conversation is. So, when I am thinking about making a change to the curriculum of a program we run, or adding something new, it’s important that I remember to make time and space to have conversations with key partners that provide the historical context that supports this change.

Another example comes in working with centralized departments. As I mentioned earlier, our center is run like a business. Therefore, my expectation is to get reports and information in a timely fashion to ensure we’re ‘on track.’ Again, it’s important for me to keep two things in mind. First, our center is a very small piece of the work of the university. And, second, the university is not a business – it is an educational institution. Therefore, part of my role is to explain to these key partners what our business model is, and how we work; and, at the same time, be patient and flexible as they work to meet our needs.

The workshop helped me recognize my cultural preferences, and become aware that in order to get things done I needed to take a moment to identify strategies to bridge the cultural differences between departments; in this case, between my preferences and theirs.

So, when you think of culture as nationality or diversity, take a moment to think about the multiple cultures that you are immersed in within the confines of the company that you work for. How does your team/department interact with other departments? Which departments do you work with? How do the relationships vary with the departments? What are the ‘unwritten rules of engagement’?

November 9, 2015
by Lisa DeAngelis

Where’s the fire? What’s the hurry about?


Some of you may recognize the reference to Billy Joel. In this song he was focused on the speed at which children want to grow up. I, however, am talking about the speed and aggressiveness demonstrated by drivers.

I have the unenviable task of driving in and out of Boston everyday and, despite the fact that my commute takes place at a very early hour, the trip can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours or more. It may be worth noting that I live a mere 13 miles from work. So I can certainly appreciate how drivers may find the commute frustrating. However, I have noticed a pattern of behavior that is unacceptable and, frankly, dangerous.

A few examples of this are the dashes across multiple lanes (without signaling, of course); driving dangerously close to the vehicle in front of you; bypassing the line of cars in cue to take an exit and cutting someone off as close to the front of the cue as possible; and, my personal favorite, not stopping for the individual that is using the crosswalk to traverse the street. I’m sure you can all think of examples of your own.

I am not here to get into the debate of how irrational this behavior is, or to discuss how it really doesn’t get you to your destination any faster. Rather, I want to focus on the residual affect this aggressive behavior has had on the rest of us and, in particular, on me. I find that I have now become a more aggressive driver. I will drive closer to the car in front of me than I should. I will get unreasonably upset with the person cutting into the line. I’ve also noticed the toll that this is taking on my stress levels – and on my co-workers and family.

We don’t leave that anger/stress in the vehicle when we step out, do we? I know that I am more irritable and have a shorter tolerance level with those around me. Not a great demonstration of leadership, is it?

Now that I’m aware of the affect this is having on me, I am able to address it. As a leader, and we all lead ourselves, I can choose to behave differently. You may remember a quote that says something to the effect; “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that is important.” I’ve decided to change and I would encourage you to think about it as well. How am I doing it? I’ve taken to imagining that my son (who is nearing the age of getting his license) is driving the other vehicle. I listen to podcasts or classical music on the radio – or I leave the radio off. I consciously let people in and stop for those in crosswalks, and I am distancing myself from the car in front of me. I practice mindfulness, becoming aware of what is happening in my body during the commute (e.g. hands tightening on the wheel, tension in my shoulders, talking to other drivers), acknowledge this awareness, and make a choice about whether this reaction is serving me or not.

Has any of this changed the driving behaviors of others on the road? I don’t know, but I do know that I am far less stressed and angry when I get to my destination. It’s about me putting out into the world what I want to see more of. And, the reality is, while this example is about driving, I’m sure you can think of many others that happen in the office on a daily basis. The response can be the same. Choose differently. Step into your leadership and model what you want to see.

Referring back to the very next line in this Billy Joel song, “You better cool it down before you burn it out.” I welcome hearing about the techniques you are using to identify and positively impact issues through your personal leadership.

October 23, 2015
by Lisa DeAngelis

Do you even know you’re in a Rut?


Perhaps you’ve heard of, or even used, the term, ‘stuck in a rut.’ It is thought to have come from the days of wagon travel when the wooden wheels of the wagon would literally get stuck in the grooved path carved out by those that had gone before them (Moreland, 2011). In essence, tasks become so routinized that we fail to notice the redundancy of them.

A vivid reminder of the ruts in our work happens when we bring someone new into our organization. As we begin to explain the processes and procedures of the organization, we’re likely met with the raised eyebrow or polite, “may I ask why it’s done that way.” Too often we are quick to defend the status quo – even if we don’t like it – saying things like, “that’s the way we do it here,” or “we’ve always done it that way.”

As a center, we are in the midst of reorganizing our small team and hiring someone into a newly created position. This process has required us to think about not only what the work of the center is, and who is primarily responsible for which components of the work, but also why the work is done the way it is. Needless to say, we’ve already uncovered quite a few ruts!

Instead of staying in the rut, we welcome that inquisitiveness as a chance to identify new ways of doing things. These are fantastic opportunities to look at our work with fresh eyes.

My tip to you: as you interview new hires, ask them to share innovations that they have made in their prior roles. Find those people for your team who will continue to help you look at the work you do from new perspectives and get you out of your rut.

Moreland, T. (2011, November 13). Stuck in a rut? Lessons Learned from Early Pioneers | HR C-Suite. Retrieved from

Some of you may have recognized the title of this blog as having come from the quote from Henry Ford. I am not about to endeavor in a history lesson here, but I would like to take a moment to ground this quote in its context. Ford is credited with bringing to fruition a variety of things that many of think of as mainstream today. These included things such as the mass production of vehicles, the concept of a standard workweek, and living wages (he paid more than twice the standard daily wage).

I have to imagine that each step of the way he was met with incredulous stares. Can you picture the scene where a mere twenty or so years after the automobile was invented, this guy comes along proclaiming that vehicles should be available and affordable to the masses? Or the reaction when he declared that he would pay employees $5 per day, for a standard 8 hour day.

My point is that, as his quote illustrates, Mr. Ford did not give in to the internal or external voices that tried to dissuade him. Can you say the same?

How many times do we tell ourselves, “I can’t do that,” or “I wouldn’t be good at that?” Worse yet, how many times do we allow others to say it to us? And when I say this I am not talking about reimagining an industry, I’m talking about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone; about realizing that we have no idea of what we are truly capable of because we choose to limit ourselves.

Why do we limit ourselves? Is it fear? Are we afraid to try something and ‘fail?’ (see my earlier blog for my thoughts on ‘failure.’) Are we afraid of not being instantly good at something? Are we protecting an image we hold of our self?

At our Emerging Leaders Program immersion week last week a leader the participants heard from talked about an important person in her professional life who consistently posed the question, “why not?” Similarly, I have the “so what” person in my life. When I begin to back away from opportunity (whatever that might look like) this person is able to walk me through the “so what” scenarios. It sounds something like this, “so what if you try something and it doesn’t go well. What’s the worst that will happen?” Followed by a conversation where I am able to look at the risks realistically. We then move to “so what if you try something and it does go well. What may come from it?” Over the years I’ve gotten better at asking myself the “so what” question. This opens me up to the possibilities and allows me to grow and learn in ways that I might not have yet imagined.

I’ll leave you with a closing quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, “… if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Perhaps that is what inspired Henry Ford.

September 2, 2015
by Lisa DeAngelis

HR Leadership, an oxymoron?

I’m honored to have been asked to speak at NEHRA’s annual conference on the topic of changing the perception of HR leadership. As someone who spent the first two and a half decades of my career as an HR professional, I truly believe in the value this discipline can offer to an organization.

Unfortunately, human resources has garnered a reputation as the ‘policy police.’ These professionals take their role seriously, ensuring that the organization is complying with laws and regulations, and utilizing internal processes and tools, which is laudable. However, they have become so focused on this aspect of the role that at times the business feels as though HR is speaking a foreign language.

Early in my career my CEO told me that he expected me to know the business as well as he did. Since then I’ve had the good fortune of working with senior business leaders, across a variety of industries, who appreciated my efforts to learn the business, and who took my recommendations seriously because I was able to ground them in business logic and speak their language.

Most organizations would readily admit that their most important asset, their competitive advantage, is their people. And, human resources should have unique purview into the people within the organization, their strengths, their aspirations, and their motivations. At the same time, HR must be immersed in the business of the organization. They should know how the business works, the competitive landscape, and emerging trends in the industry. This powerful combination of understanding the business landscape and the talent within the organization (and within the industry) positions HR leadership to counsel the business on how to leverage the people in the organization both for competitive advantage and for personal fulfillment.

HR leadership does not need to be an oxymoron. During my time at the NEHRA conference I hope to help HR professionals think about their roles differently, harness their leadership potential, and shape a new vision for HR.

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