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I've Never Thought of Myself as a Princess - But Still Like to Pretend Sometimes

 I love Halloween - always have.  My 'go-to' costumes growing up were a gypsy or princess - largely because my sister and I could just raid our mother's scarf and jewelry drawers and whip something up. We'd head out the door with our pillow cases in hand ready to fill them with candy. Growing up in St. Cloud meant we had blocks and blocks of middle-class houses just like ours to stop at - everyone had their light on - and we'd wander home hours later with sack full of goodies and big smiles on our faces.

And Halloween still makes me smile, but these days my 'go-to' costume is Snow White - primarily because I got a really nice one when at Caribou Coffee - and I DO have the hair for it, So during my long commute home on Halloween in my full Snow White gear (which yielded a few friendly honks and waves) - I took time to ponder what all of us as employees and leaders might learn from this beloved princess from long ago which includes:

  • You may not ever be the fairest of them all - but you can still be darn fair.  No matter how hard you work, there may be someone on the team who appears to be more talented or well-connected or experienced than you are. Nothing you can do about that. The key is to keep yourself as 'fair' as possible - keep your skills sharp, volunteer for that extra project to get exposure to other teams, ask for feedback on how you can get better or take some additional training classes in the evenings or on weekends. Because often 'fairness' has nothing to do with promotions - but hard work, being highly skilled and excellent at what you do sure does.

  • Be Happy - no one wants to work with Grumpy, Sleepy or Dopey. Everyone can have a bad day, except maybe Snow White. But stay as positive, energetic and, well, happy as you can. Be a problem-solver not a problem-stater. Make good things better. Be that person that others want to be around. 

  • Routinely look in your own magic mirror which doesn't lie. You know the story - the evil queen looks in the magic mirror and hear's some hard truth that Snow White is now the fairest in the land. Know your strengths but, more importantly, know your weaknesses and where you get stuck. Find that 'magic mirror' in a boss or co-worker that you trust and ask him/her to help you know your blindspots. Not easy - but so necessary.

  • Watch out for those poison apples. Some people build you up and some drag you down. Stay away from the gossipers and the complainers. Align yourself with those that share your drive for excellence and that want you to succeed. Be smart enough to be able to tell the difference.

  • Always do the right thing - even when it's hard. Even the huntsman figured it out and did the right thing in the end. Be clear on your personal values. Set and always honor what lines you will never cross. Strive to always do what's right not just for yourself but also for your company. Do this even when it isn't the easy thing to do.

  • One quality can set you apart from others - take advantage of it. Each of the dwarfs had a trait that made him special and set him apart from everyone else.  Maximize those top one or two things that make you special - surround yourself with people that are different than you and who complement your strengths.  Remember to respect and accept your other dwarfs and honor their special skills.  After all - it did take all seven to save Snow White.

I've been called many things during the course of my career - but generally not a princess (which is probably good I guess??). So it is such great fun for me to pretend I am a princess each year on Halloween because it reminds me of these key lessons and helps me not take myself too seriously. And - by the way - it is REALLY hard to be taken seriously while conducting a meeting in a princess costume. But I do recommend you try it sometime - you may not get any work done but I guarantee you'll get some laughs. 

The More Things Change - The More They DON'T Stay The Same

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I love change, always have. Which is why I think Fall is my favorite time of year. Changing colors. Changing temperatures. Changing wardrobes. But too much change in a career is a bad thing, right? We all know that staying in a job for a least two years is GOOD and that being branded a 'job jumper' is BAD. But for me, career changes have been a blessing (even though I expect I looked more like this picture during that time than I care to admit). But in life and in business, the real truth is that the more things change the more things DON'T stay the same. And thank God for that - or life would be very, very dull.  

I have the privilege of connecting with many highly talented business professionals who are in the midst of changing jobs. Some by choice - some not - but all in the same state of uncertainty about what will come next that can truly be debilitating. In my previous blog about How To "Go With Grace" During Life's Transitions, I shared what I have learned during my four job transitions:

  • What you DO is not who you ARE as a person.
  • Build your network before you need it.
  • Finding a job IS a job.
  • Take full advantage of experts and resources available to you.
  • Take time for YOU.

So with all of this change happening around me I have been pondering - what makes some people more successful in managing change than others? Why do some people thrive when facing a job transition and land on their feet so successfully while others become stymied with no plan for moving forward?  One of our team members did a little digging for me about how people who successfully handle change are wired, and he found an interesting post on forbes.com that identified the top things that make someone adaptable which include:

  1. Adaptable people see opportunity where others see failure.
  2. Adaptable people experiment.
  3. Adaptable people stay current.
  4. Adaptable people don't whine.
  5. Adaptable people don't blame.
  6. Adaptable people are curious. 
  7. Adaptable people know what they stand for.
     

The good news for me is that I see myself in all of these traits (well - except maybe the 'don't whine' part on occassion), which I know has helped me successfully navigate the job changes I've faced. How much do they describe you?

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Core (Value) Work

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About a month ago, I started running - for exercise, not necessarily for fun. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the time to stretch before or after my runs. Last week, when I woke up the day after a particularly grueling run around Lake of the Isles, I was hobbling around with sharp muscle pain in my legs. My partner gave me a look that was one-part ‘pity’, two-parts ‘I-told-you-so.’ She’s a contemporary ballet dancer, so she understands that stretching and core work aren’t extra things to do post-workout if you feel like it -- they are part of the workout itself - essential to it. These exercises improve your stability, balance, and help you avoid injury and soreness.

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve always hated stretching and core exercises.

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Why "Just Do As I Say" Doesn't Seem To Work Anymore (and Probably Never Did)

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I never had the chance to have kids. So I never went through the stage where my two-year old son questioned everything by asking 'why' over and over (and over) - or the teenage years when my daughter did EXACTLY the opposite of what I asked her to do. I never got a chance to use the "Just do it because I say so" or "I'm the mom, that's why" lines - a skill which quite honestly may have come in handy during my business career. But employees aren't children of course, and using the "just do as I say" directive is not very effective leadership. Even if at times one gets awfully frustrated when things aren't getting done.


Whether baby boomer or millennial or gen z, it strikes me that no one likes to be told what to do. Or at least the highly productive business professionals I've worked with don't. We all want to feel empowered. We all want to control our own destiny. We all want to have expectations of us clearly stated so we can do great work. I doubt that any of us show up to work with a goal of NOT meeting our boss' expectations of what is needed from us that day.

So why is it, then, that people don't always do what they say they are going to do? 

Good question.

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I was talking recently with my friend and colleague, Kurt Theriault, who is the President of Allied Executives, about how to effectively run our business and he shared this model with me. As an aside - Allied Executives is a great resource for business leaders and sponsors the CEO Peer group that I participate in monthly. Check 'em out at www.alliedexecutives.com.

We were discussing why seemingly talented and engaged business people sometimes just aren't cutting it. Even with crystal clear direction on what is expected of them, they can not or will not do what is needed. He shared the following reasons why this might be happening:

  1. Don't Know Was Supposed To - This is the scenario where an employee has the right attitude and skills, but is working from unclear direction. He/she probably has not had great engagement from a boss who has clearly stated what is expected of them. The fix here is easy - review his/her seat, seek understanding of what they believe the deliverables of that seat are, and then clarify expectations and help prioritize actions. 
  2. Doesn't Know How - Similar to the scenario above, this situation has a fairly easy solve. Most of us aren't keen to admit we don't know how to do something, and often times this can get in our way of doing a job well. The solve here is to fully engage with your employee and be honest. Let him/her know that something isn't getting done and ask them why this is happening - ask them what is getting in their way of doing that particular task or achieving an expected outcome. If you've created a caring and trusting work environment where it is OK to admit a gap in skills or knowledge - this will come out and together you can focus on the right training or coaching needed to fill this gap.
  3. Don't Have Capacity- Gaps in capacity comes in many forms and some are solvable (and some not). Again the solve is open and honest communication with employees about where they are getting stuck or what is getting in their way. If they say they don't have 'time' - them help them re-prioritize their focus. If it is a work/life balance issue, that will require a little more conversation. Bottom line - as the leader you need to probe for understanding of what the real issue is - and coach 'em up or move 'em out depending on what you hear.
  4. Don't Want To or Don't Like To - The solve here is easy, this person has to go away. There is very little we can do as leaders to MAKE someone do something they fundamental don't wish to do. Don't waste your energy and cut your losses.

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