The Red Shoe

Have you ever wondered how a shoe ends up in the middle of the highway? Not a small shoe which one can almost imagine a cranky child express his displeasure or his abilities by hurling it out of the window.  No, it is a lonely man’s shoe, size 10 by my estimation. The shoe is red, and its character is casual, not a running shoe but definitely a sport type, with matching red laces for frill.

The road is route 28. The shoe is on the southbound lane and it appears that so far it has avoided the devastating crush of a big wheeler. Where is its pair? I scoured the other lanes and there was no other shoe to be found. This is a very fast moving part of route 28. It not a pedestrian road, there are no cross walks, and the shoe was only yards away from the connection to Route 66, another heavily traveled road. To the north, about 20 miles away, is Dulles International Airport. With all of these clues I have created a story for this poor abandoned shoe.

The shoe met its owner in Kismet, Kansas. It was the only pair of red sneakers in the store but they were perfect. You see, the owner was a huge fan of Michael Jackson’s music. He had memorized every lyric of his songs and learned every move of the Thriller and Bad videos. The shoe and its pair stood out among the owner’s other shoes, and for this reason they were the owner’s favorite pair. The shoes got a lot of attention whenever they were worn. People would inquire about them and the owner was always excited to share that he was a hip-hop dancer and dreamed to be in the show, “So You Think You Can Dance.” The owner and his shoes were reknown for their uniqueness. The shoe and its pair were most used in the basement of the house where the owner lived. The shoe would slide, bend and  bounce to the booming beat of the music. At the end of many hours of dancing, the shoe rested in the closet, waiting to continue to delight its owner the next day.

Early in the summer, the shoe received an unexpected surprise. Its owner kissed it. Then, he put the shoes on and danced longer and harder than usual. The owner had decided to audition for a dance group. He was very excited. But, auditions were not until October, in Washington, DC so the shoes got to dance a lot over the summer. One day, the owner invited a group of his friends over. He wanted to show them what he had choreographed for his audition. The music was pumping and everyone was into the performance. Suddenly, there was loud snap. What was that?!! The owner was okay, but the shoe’s pair was in trouble. A portion of the sole had come apart from the shoe. Everyone gathered around to inspect the damage. The owner was very upset for his trip to DC was only weeks away. He knew he would not be able to find another pair of red shoes in time. Plus, he really couldn’t afford it. He wasn’t sure it could be repaired, though he was willing to try. Without its pair the shoe would not dance the most important dance of its owner’s life. That night, the shoes sagged.

The shoe and his pair were separated for days. Without his pair, he was useless and left in the darkness of the closet. His owner picked it up a few days later and he held it for several minutes, looking it over with nostalgia. Then, with his other hand, he picked up a shiny new black shoe and held it right next to the red shoe. He said, “You were the perfect shoe for this dance.” He held them both for a few minutes longer. Then he took the other red shoe out of a bag and put them on. They were dancing again! The owner danced for the joy of being reunited with his red shoes, and the red shoes with him. After an hour or so, the owner, took off his red shoes and put them on the side of the bed, just before going to sleep.

It was dark when the owner began packing up the last of his stuff for his trip. Everything was going into the luggage, except his dance shoes. Those he would carry in a bag. He grabbed the bag with his shiny new black shoes in them. He didn’t know that one of his red shoes had fallen in the bag.

He made it to the airport. The owner was very excited for his audition. He had never been to Washington, DC but he had a friend there who was picking him up. He could hardly believe that his day had finally come. He knew in his heart that this was his chance, and that his dancing would finally take him places. Not everyone got his dancing back home. He knew that this trip would change that. The red shoe had never traveled this far either, and in such smelly company. The aroma of unused soles and material permeated the bag.

The owner arrived at Dulles Airport with no delays. He had butterflies in his stomach because he knew that in less than 24 hours he would be dancing before choreographers and professional dancers who would recognize his talent. His friend was very happy to see him and explained that his car was full because he was moving to a new apartment this weekend. He and his girlfriend had found a place together. They piled everything on top of the lampshades, bags and boxes that were in the back of the car. They followed the exit signs and loops to Route 28, southbound.

The red shoe had slipped from the bag and teetered on top of a lampshade, right next to the window. The owner and his friend had a lot of catching up to do. He told his friend how hard he had worked for this and how he had come very close to losing this chance. His friend laughed when he told him that one of his dance shoes had fallen apart while he was dancing. “You wore them out!” his friend said. The owner told him that his red shoes had inspired him to be bold and daring with his choreography and to follow his dream.  He said he wished he could have danced with his red shoes at the audition, but that he couldn’t take a chance with the repaired shoe. “Whoa”, the driver said, “there’s the exit.” He was taken by surprise by the left eastbound exit to Route 66. He quickly changed lanes. The red shoe fell out.

Much Love,

How To Deal With Bullies At Work

Borrowed this photo from another blogger who wrote about bullying. Check it out at
http://charmedyoga.com/2012/10/13/can-bullying-be-stopped-with-yoga/

Bullies in the playground are pretty easy to pick out. But, bullies in the workplace may not be as obvious. We may feel anxious and stressed about dealing with someone at work and we may not associate their stress-causing behavior with bullying.

A workplace bully is someone who continuously belittles, undervalues, criticizes or damages the reputation of another employee. Bullying can occur in private or in front of others. In my experience, workplace bullies get away with what they do under the guise of “productivity” or “good management.” The bullies I have observed have used their position to put someone down, call them names, call them stupid, or simply devalue their contributions to the team. I was bullied by someone who always began questions and discussion over my work – in a public setting – from the position that it was wrong. I have heard bullies devalue a member of the team by talking badly about them with their colleagues or blaming them for things that went wrong. Bullying can be done in the form of jokes – which are widely accepted as harmeless and not as a disguised attack, sarcasm, or body language – like rolling their eyes or throwing a pen down when the person is speaking to show disagreement or frustration.

Some bullies do things unconsciously to make the other person feel small or intimidated. Bullies can intimidate with body language, standing too close, hovering over the person. They can intimidate by using a deeper tone of voice with you than with others. Or, they may bully by simply leaving you out of the conversation or by intentionally excluding you from communications.

Bullying is an issue that should be taken seriously by every employer. If bullying is part of the culture, then it will be difficult for the employer to attract and retain good talent. Unfortunately, however, a study done with the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that 72 percent of bosses are bullies, and if your boss gets the results that make the CEO and the shareholders happy, then they will likely look the other way and pretend that the problem does not exist. Other brow-raising statistics I found include:

  • More men are bullies (60%), but women bullies target other women (71%)
  • 37% of Americans have experience bullying
  • 12% of Americans have witnessed bullying

In most bullying cases I witnessed, the person being bullied did not speak up and left their job. In my case, I learned to deal with it by recognizing that I was not the problem. The bully had personal issues and I was an easy target for him. Once I saw the behavior as his issue, I was able to handle the situation more calmly. Fortunately, that person left the job so I didn’t have to deal with it anymore. But, there are people who are experiencing serious health and mental issues due to continuous bullying and abuse at work. Sadly, the job market is so tight that people are forced to suffer because they need their job and cannot find another opportunity. Speaking up is risky because you can get fired if the upper management and HR support the bully.

 What can you do? I will share my insights as well as links to other sources of information.

 

  1. Record every instance of abuse. Keeping a record will serve a couple of purposes. It will help you legitimize the experience to yourself. You may have suffered so long you may begin doubting yourself and thinking it really is your fault. Some of the sources I found on this topic likened it to domestic abuse. A record will show you the frequency and also help you identify the bullying behavior. The other purpose is to make your case for having the bully stopped. You want to be prepared, and ensure that you record the names of witnesses who were present when the bullying occurred.
  2. Confront the bully. This is a very difficult but critical step. You must tell the bully the exact behavior that is not acceptable and that you want it to stop. If the person yells at you, tell him/her how yelling does not make you more productive. Tell him/her how the behavior impacts your work. This is a private conversation between you and the bully. Be factual, direct and firm, make eye contact and stand your ground. If the bully is abusive in front of others tell him/her to stop. If others see that you stand your ground, you are encouraging others to speak up and not stand for this kind of work environment. People who witness bullying are also negatively affected.
  3. Take it to the top. If a bullying situation does not stop, you will not do well at this job no matter what. All you can wish for is for the bully to leave or be promoted. If you take it to the top, consider that you may be fired. Companies expect employees to follow a certain protocol that basically helps them to contain the issue. If you feel that your Human Resources group will do a fair investigation and rectify the situation, then you should definitely go that route. But, if you feel that the culture will protect the bully more than it will protect you, then make your business case for having the bully stopped to the highest level person in your organization. The business case is an account of the bad behavior with an explanation of how this negatively impacts employee morale, team productivity, organizational effectiveness and profitability. As much as you can, try to quantify the impact of the bullying. Example: the bully took time from the meeting to yell at Your Name. This caused disruption in the agenda and as a result the meeting ran late. This resulted in a missed deadline for XYZ client. XYZ client is a major account for this company totaling over 40 percent of this year’s total revenues
  4. Become informed. Research cases and find out what options you have. The more you know, the more you empowered you will feel to deal with the situation.
  5. Talk to someone. Whether a therapist or a trusted friend, talking about what you’re going through is going to help you cope until you find a solution. It is not okay to be mistreated at work and it is not your fault. The people you talk to will remind you of this.

 I send loving and supportive energy and wish you all a bully-free work environment.

 Much Love,

Other sources:

The Workplace Bullying Institute website has lots of information, learning tools, research, action plans, as well as a list of other resources:

              http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/solutions/links/

Do You Know Your Strengths?

I used to read books in French just for the fun of learning the language. I’m definitely a Learner.

It was in a leadership development program where I discovered a concept and tool that changed the way I view myself and how I work with people. The book is Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Dr. Donald O. Clifton. Having started my career in very traditional corporate environments, I know all about the 3-page evaluations where my “skill-gaps” and “areas of growth” were to be defined. It always seemed that my boss and I were stretching to find an area of growth (a.k.a., weakness) just so we could complete the form. Some of my weaknesses had nothing to do with my job. It didn’t make sense. But, I didn’t mind learning a new software or whatever. And, do you know why? Because I am a Learner. The results of my StrengthsFinder 30-minute assessment revealed that Learner is one of my top-five themes, or strengths. Have you ever experienced a moment when all things seem to suddenly click into place? Or, read the characteristics of your sign and said, “that’s totally me!” That’s what I felt when I read this:

You love to learn. The subject matter that interest you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the results, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered – this is the process that entices you.

The StrengthsFinder is focused on thirty-four themes of talent. The book comes with a link to the assessment – what the authors call the profile. After you complete your profile, your top five themes will reveal the patterns of thought or behavior that will develop into your strength. Doesn’t it make more sense to develop and grow in the areas that you’re naturally inclined for? Why not focus on sharpening our strengths in order to be more effective and productive? When I first read this book five years ago, I decided to test the concept. I bought the book for my entire team at HCF. Everyone completed the profile and we created an organizational map of all of our strengths. The results were amazing. People who were really good at their jobs had a profile of strengths that made them successful at what they did. For example, the top strength for our office manager/accountant was Achiever. Achievers are driven by a relentless need for achievement. An achiever is always working towards completion. The variety, complexity and volume of work in the accounting and administrative areas was superbly managed by someone whose natural talent was to get things done.

Our organizational map also helped me see talent that we were not using. One of the strengths in our pool was Responsibility. People with this theme take ownership of what they commit to and they follow it through to completion. Unfortunately, the position that this person was in did not maximize her strengths. But, our event planning area was in need of such talent. With a little bit of training and encouragement we developed an excellent event planner who delivered a flawless event in her first year and ever since.

The concept of managing and positioning people with their strengths in mind works. People don’t want to be beat up about what they’re not good at. If people are placed in a position where they can grow and develop their natural talents, it is a win-win for the employee and the employer.

This book is about people, and about our interactions, so it’s useful for every area of our lives. You will learn about yourself and find that some things finally click.

But, what about our weaknesses, or “skill gaps”, do we just forget about those? Well, no. The book also delves into how to manage around our weaknesses. The authors’ definition of weakness is “anything that gets in the way of excellent performance”. Knowing my non-talents is interesting but they become a real weakness when I am in a position where those particular talents are critical to the job. The book offers multiple strategies to managing our talent weaknesses.

Last week I completed another StrenghtsFinder assessment and found that my strengths have changed slightly from five years ago. Now my top five themes are Maximizer, Connectedness, Learner, Strategic, and Relator.  And, each of the themes I found describe me well, then and now.

I encourage you to read this book and to take the StrengthsFinder. Knowing your strengths is important for your career. And knowing them also comes in handy at an interview or at your next performance evaluation. You may purchase the book here.

Much Love,

Do I Have The Guts To Go Paperless?

Mine are filed in beige folders, but I bet I have this much paper to scan

I was inspired by Anna Runyan’s blog in Classy Career Girl to clean up my office and go paperless. Do I want to have a beautiful workspace that beckons angelic voices to sing? Yes, yes I do, especially now that I spend more than 50 percent of the time in my home office. But, to tell you the truth I am feeling somewhat insecure about going paperless – feels like the time I went topless on the beach, only with more permanent consequences.

There are many good reasons to make this change: it’s easier to organize, reduces clutter, longer durability, and best of all preserves our natural resources. Add to it that I have most of the tools I need – computer, scanner, shredder, and it really should be a no-brainer. But, there are some hard truths that make me pause.  Truth #1: technology has broken my heart, paper never has. Computer files, especially the important ones, somehow eat some kind of forbidden fruit that makes them corrupt and totally useless. Evil viruses can, and have, outsmarted my virtual security guards and snuck right past the firefortress. At some point my hard drive became addicted to cybercrack and its brain got fried – taking all of my digital files with it. Paper gets yellow after a few years and requires space, but offers no sudden heartaches.

What’s that you say? Backup drive? Yes, I have one of those too. It was hard lesson to learn. Honestly, for me the best back up has been a paper copy. It is the undeniable proof that data existed. And, why should I put all my faith in a technology to save me from the fallibility of technology? Isn’t that an oxymoron? The whole thing makes me nervous.

Truth #2: It is going to take a lot of time to scan all those papers and organize them. Indeed. Sadly though, hidden neatly beneath this truth is something I am afraid to admit. Yes, and I say this tremulously…I don’t really need all those papers. Ugh, my stomach just dropped. Keeping files, like electric bills from July 2011, give me peace of mind. Yes, the peace of mind that comes from knowing that if an issue were ever to arise about that bill, I could quickly dig it out of its beige folder. In all of the twenty-some years that I have been paying bills, the need to reference an old bill has arisen exactly zero times. It’s ironic that I pay all of my bills online but still keep a paper copy of the bill, but I digress.

I’ve done extensive research on this paperless topic (and by extensive research I mean I Googled it) and it seems that I’m late to the party. Did you know that we can store stuff on our cell phones too? That is way too advanced for me. I’m taking baby steps. I found seven blogs that told me how easy it is to go paperless. All prescribe the same things: get yourself some software to help organize your stuff and make it searchable – Evernote and Dropbox were mentioned – and get yourself a good scanner so it goes much faster. That’s great that they mentioned all the plusses of going paperless. But, what about the minuses? Now instead of filing a piece of paper, I have to: 1. Scan it. 2. Save it to the appropriate folder and 3. Trash or shred it. Three steps where before I only had the one. So, truth be told, being paperless does come with a price. And, the price may be higher if my scanner and/or computer are acting sluggish.  Did I mention I want a nice beautiful neat office? Yes, I really do.

There’s just one thing to do and that is take it all off!! The paper, that is. A three-day weekend seems like the perfect time to begin my transition to paperless. If I am successful, I may even buy myself one of those pretty white paper-thin computers.

Have you de-cluttered your life by going paperless? If so, what advice do you have for me?

Much Love,