Lisa DeAngelis, Director

The Power of “No”

I feel as though I am just emerging from a long hibernation. This is my first blog in nearly 9 months. Why the hiatus? Was it that I had nothing to write about? Had I lost my desire to engage through this medium? Clearly not! And, yet, I had also reached an inflection point where I knew that I needed to create some space for my self amidst the ever-increasing priorities of life. Perhaps you can relate?

So, I chose to say, “no.” Arguably one of the most difficult words to articulate. Speaking for myself, I don’t want to disappoint others, and I certainly don’t want to miss out on what might turn out to be a fantastic opportunity. This begs the question, how do we know what to say, “no” to? As David Whyte shared so beautifully in The Heart Aroused, “One way to come to yes is to say no to everything that does not nourish and entice our secret inner life out into the world.”

What does this mean? It means understanding, truly, what you are meant to do with your unique talents; and having the courage to create the space to do it. This is no easy task, nor is it something you do once and then move along your merry way. Along your journey, you’ll invariably be faced with the traffic jam – the feeling that you are wading through all of this “work” that is slowing you down in your ability to have the impact, on your self and others, that you are meant to have.

The question becomes, how long does it take you before you realize that you’re stuck? And, once you realize it, what will you do about it? In my case, I chose to create time and space for my self. To say, “no” to things that I could in order to say, “yes” to opportunities that would get me back on track. That decision has led to some amazing opportunities – a teaching assistantship at HBS, two international speaking engagements this summer, the onboarding of a fantastic Executive-in-Residence who will help us take the Center to the next level – and those are only the professional opportunities!

I welcome hearing your stories of how saying “no” has led to an even better “yes.”

Wouldn’t You Rather Know?

The thing about feedback is that we say we want it, but we never really want to hear it. When it’s good, we dismiss it. When it’s bad, we reject it. Why is that?

Feedback is a gift. It is one person sharing with you, from their lens, how you are perceived by them. It takes a degree of trust and a desire to be in – or remain in – relationship for a person to reach out and give feedback. If I give you feedback, I am trusting that you will be able to take it in and handle it appropriately. And, if I didn’t care about the relationship, why would I bother to take the time and energy to give you feedback?

Think about the number of interactions we have with individuals throughout each day. Think about yesterday. Each interaction has an impact – either positively or negatively. The question is, did we have the impact we intended? And, truly, the only way to know is to receive the feedback.

For many, the first reaction we have when we’re told that our impact didn’t have the effect we intended is to blame the person giving us the feedback or to justify our actions. How likely do you think it is that we’ll continue to get feedback from that person?

Feedback is an opportunity for me to see if my actions and intentions are aligned. This requires two things. First that I am clear about my intentions; and, second, that I am able to objectively take in the persons perception.

I have learned, and continue to re-learn, that the power of feedback lies in what I choose to do with it.

Time to Disconnect and Reconnect

For those of you who have been following this blog, our website, and our other social media channels, you know that this has been an amazing, and eventful, year for the Center. We graduated the last January cohort, launched the first September cohort, celebrated the retirement of the founding director, announced the inaugural Building a Better Boston award and Leading the Way award recipients, piloted a webinar series, and much more. All while executing flawlessly on the core business operations.
On top of that, each of the three of us had our own unique opportunities both professionally and personally. The good news is that we work incredibly well together as a team. And, as you might expect, we’re all starting to get a bit “crispy.”
Fortunately, at the beginning of the summer we all plotted out our summer plans, setting our sights on long weekends and weeks away. As each of those has approached, we’ve reminded one another that this is their time away. Time to disconnect and recharge the battery. Time to reconnect with themselves, with their family and friends, with activities they enjoy.
Unfortunately, in our overconnected world, there is an expectation that being on vacation simply means that you won’t physically be in the office. You may even be given a bit more latitude in the amount of time it takes you to respond to an email. For years, I fed into this. I would constantly check and respond to emails, answer voicemails, and even participate in the occasional conference call while on vacation.
The reality is, when an employee truly takes a vacation – even a staycation – everybody wins. The person is able to relax and enjoy their time away. And, they return with renewed energy and, sometimes, even a fresh perspective on an issue they’ve been struggling with.
As a leader, I am reminded that it is important to set the tone through both words and actions. So, as I take my turn to be away next week, I will be disconnecting. I may peruse email once or twice per day but will not respond unless it’s urgent. If something comes up that requires my immediate attention, the team knows how to reach me.
Please don’t look for a blog next Friday as there won’t be one. I’ll be off spending time with my two favorite guys!

When opportunity knocks will you answer?

This week I’ve had two wonderful conversations with friends that I’ve known for many years. In both cases the individuals are in the midst of significant career transitions.

Earlier this week, as I was departing the train at South Station, I happened to cross paths with a gentleman that I had worked with several years ago. As we were catching up, he shared that he’d just been presented with an amazing opportunity on the West Coast. After discussing with his family, they decided that this would be a great experience for everyone. Shortly, he, his wife, and his two young girls, will be moving across the country.

The other person was in the midst of evaluating the long-term sustainability of the program she runs when she was offered an incredible opportunity to step into a significant role within the organization she works for. This new role will enable her to have broad impact while continuing to grow the program she is running.

These positions represent a significant departure from the routine that these individuals are accustomed to. Additionally, there is substantial risk associated with both opportunities. Moving across the country is a huge deal when there is a risk you will not like the new role, or that your family will not like the new living arrangement. And, while we all run the risk of failing when presented with a new opportunity, the second person above has the added pressure that her success or failure will be observed in a very public way. And yet, in both cases, they had the courage to embrace the change that was offered to them.

The interesting thing about opportunities is that they rarely come when you are looking for them, and they typically don’t resemble the career step that you envision being next. So, my question to you is, when opportunity knocks, will you answer?

You Never Gave Up on Me

These sage words came out of my twelve year-old son’s mouth shortly after his team clinched the Town Championship in Little League baseball.  He was speaking to his father who has coached my son in a number of sports over the years, and has spent countless hours at the field running drills and pitching batting practice for him.

 

There is a powerful leadership lesson in this.  Leaders should identify and encourage the potential in each of their team members.  They should take the time to know the dreams and aspirations of those they work with and create opportunities that allow them to work toward realizing those dreams.  And, in some cases, they need to see the potential in their employees even when the employee doesn’t recognize it in themselves.

 

I am so proud of my husband for the invaluable leadership lesson that he demonstrated for my son, and I am inspired by my son’s recognition of this gift.

Is anybody really out there?

A curious thing about a blog is that it can be difficult for the author to understand the impact, if any, that they are having.  While we have all sorts of fancy dashboards and metrics, the medium limits our ability to engage in a rich dialogue with our readers.

 

While I fully understand that one purpose for a blog is to gain wide visibility, I am choosing to approach this blog as intimate conversation with individuals interested in thoughts on leadership.  My hope is that as I co-create this with my readers, this audience will slowly reach others who share this interest.

 

This week I’d like to hear from you.  Is there a particular blog that you enjoyed?  If so, which one and why?  Are there things that I’ve written about that you’d like me to explore more deeply? Are there things that you wish I would write about?  If so, what?  Are there things that I’ve written about that just didn’t resonate for you?

 

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Next Chapters

Building off of last week’s blog, I’ve recently heard that the last hotel I worked in will be closing soon.  The Inn At Harvard, an institution in Harvard Square for the past 22 years, will be repurposed as living quarters for Harvard University students.

 

My experience at this hotel offered me my first exposure to both an authentic leader and to collaborative leadership.  The General Manager of the property expected each member of his executive team to contribute fully to the success of the hotel.  He modeled for us that the only way to do this was to take a broad view, rather than focusing on the best interests of our particular domain.  He welcomed our suggestions, ideas, and pushback.  He encouraged us to work through our differences through honest and constructive dialogue.  And he challenged us to live up to the potential that he saw in each of us.

 

Over the years I’ve lost track of some of the members of that team, but those that I have remained in contact with have all moved into significant leadership positions.  Each of us fondly recall the gentle guidance and tough love with which he mentored us, as we now mentor others.

 

Next week I will have the unique experience of being a guest at the hotel.  It is bittersweet to think that I was one of the employees early in the hotels history, and will now be one of its final guests.  In chatting with the GM the other day, we both remarked that, while it is sad that The Inn is closing, the memories we have are really about the amazing people and wonderful relationships that began there.

 

I hope that I will have an opportunity to see many of these friends while I am there, to thank them for our shared experience, and to wish them every happiness in their next chapter.

New beginnings

Today is commencement at UMass Boston, where thousands of undergraduates and graduates will fulfill one chapter of their journey and begin another.  For many of them, they worry about “what they want to do with the rest of their life.”  The reality is, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 1978 to 2010, individual’s average just more than 11 jobs between ages 18 and 46.  While BLS doesn’t capture statistics on career changes, anecdotal information points to a high likelihood that these job changes reflect at least one career shift.

 

My own career is an example of this.  I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality, Restaurant and Institutional Management.  My first three jobs were in operations within hotels.  I then decided that I wanted to make the career change to Human Resources, and was afforded that opportunity within the hotel I worked for.  After a promotion to another hotel within the chain (and a decade within the industry), I decided that I wanted to change industries.  I had the privilege of honing my HR skills in a call center operation, an IT consulting firm, Insurance, and Construction Management.  Through these experiences I was able to realize that what I am passionate about is helping others to realize their fullest potential.  I am fortunate to be in a position where I am able to do this work with rising professionals across our region.

 

One of the things that I share with those that I coach is to embrace change, to seize opportunities that will stretch them beyond their comfort zone.  Whether these come packaged as a job or career change or not, one thing is for sure – the individual will change.  By experiencing and reflecting on these challenges, they become more aware of who they are, what is important to them, and what they are passionate about.

Wait, what was I supposed to be doing?

With each passing day it seems as if we are given ever more liberties to be distracted.  We’ve evolved from cell phones to mobile email to texting  - giving the world more access to us,  and us to it.  And, if that weren’t enough, our phones are able to download every imaginable app.  Couple this with the demands we face each day – from work, family, community and ourselves – and you have a recipe for distraction.

It seems crazy to me that we need laws to help individuals understand that texting while driving is a bad combination.  And yet, I was among those who used to take a quick peek at email while sitting at red lights.  Admit it, there is a certain addiction to respond when you hear that bing indicating that you have a new message.

Several years ago I had a wonderful mentor, a senior executive at a prominent global organization, who shared that she did not check email at night or on weekends.  Her team knew that if there was an emergency they could reach her by cell phone, otherwise whatever was happening could be addressed during normal business hours.  This was one method she used to ensure that when she was not at work, she was focusing on the other aspects of her life.

I have also seen an executive ban electronics from meetings.  This was not your typical “please turn the device to silent” only to slyly glance at it under the table when you think no one is looking, request.  This dictum had the participants leaving their devices in their office.  This was his approach to making certain that employees were engaged in the topic at hand.

Studies show that we are healthier, happier, and more productive when we are able to focus.   

Having recently started to feel the effects of being pulled in too many directions, I’ve begun to implement a few baby steps to eliminate distractions.

  • I deleted all but one game app from my phone.  The one that remains is the one that I play with my husband – a fun way to stay connected when we’re not together.
  • The only noise my phone makes is when I receive a text or phone call.
  • Blocking time on my calendar to work on things that require concentration.

 

How do you deal with this?

Leaders need to get out of the way

Have you ever had a meeting where one of your team shared the impact of something you’d done or said and you thought, “wow, that’s not what I had intended at all.”?  Can’t think of a single instance?  Let me see if I can help jog your memory.

 

  • An employee comes to you with a question and, rather than engaging their supervisor, you provide a response.  The supervisor then, if you are lucky, shares with you how they felt undermined by this.
  • In a meeting you either offer the first solution, or interject early in the conversation supporting an idea.  After the meeting a participant (or participants) approach you, if you are lucky, to let you know that you stemmed the discussion by jumping in.
  • Your boss asks you to work on a new concept or project.  Rather than engaging your team, you either work on it yourself or simply ask your team for specific inputs.  When the concept or project gets presented, you discover that many of your team members have experience and/or interest that could have influenced the end product.

 

If that’s not what you intended, then what happened?  Let me suggest this.  In the early stages of your career, you are taught, rewarded and recognized for your ability to get things done.  Then you become a manager and you try to figure out how to get things done through others.    But, somewhere along the way, you begin to make the shift from manager to leader.  As a leader, your role shifts from having all the answers to asking the right questions.  It becomes a place of fostering and developing the capabilities of those around you.

 

As leaders, it is our responsibility to hire, train and develop top talent.  We need to understand what the capabilities and interests are for our employees and then we need to make opportunities to stretch them toward their potential.  While things may not get done as quickly as if you’d done it yourself, or in the way that you would have done it, your team will learn invaluable lessons that will help them in their continued development.

 

Please share your stories of when you’ve gotten out of the way or when a leader has gotten out of the way for you.