Last photo with my dad

TGIF – Remembering Al McDonald, my father

Hello.

I have been silent these past weeks.  My parents recently moved to a senior residence.  Once Dad was assured that Mom was settled in, and I had just had time to hang pictures on the wall, my father passed away.

This newsletter is quite personal, and I share my faith in Jesus Christ.  If this turns you off, now is the time to close this email.

So, here goes for a politically incorrect and totally genuine TGIF – Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Fun.

Trust

I am trusting in eternal life.

My father, Al McDonald, died last Thursday, one week before Thanksgiving.  I am trusting in eternal life that is a gift through Jesus Christ.

It is with sad but grateful hearts that we commemorate the extraordinary life of co-founder Alonzo (“Al”) McDonald, who passed away this past week at the age of 91. Al’s remarkable life included service as CEO of McKinsey, President and Vice-Chairman of the Bendix Corporation, White House staff Director for President Carter, Deputy Special Trade Representative, and Harvard Business School faculty member. Al also founded and chaired the McDonald Agape Foundation, and served as founding Chairman of the Trinity Forum, which he helped launch with Os Guinness in 1991. 

extract from The Trinity Forum newsletter

Click here to read the tribute to Al McDonald by author Os Guinness.

Dad himself wrote about his faith in three essays printed by The Trinity Forum.  You can get free copies (scroll down on this page for instructions):

Trusting in eternal life means believing that the best has just begun.  I consider that eternal life begins NOW…and the best experiences we have in our life here on earth are merely signposts of our life after death.  Life as we experience it daily resembles the light of a lamp, whereas life after death is like basking in sunlight.

I am trusting that my father is in the best time of his life ever!

Gratitude

Grief is real.  We grieve because we love and were loved.  What a privilege to have shared tenderness with my father throughout various times in my life.  I am grateful to having loved, to continue loving, and to be loved.

Al McDonald young father
When he believed in me even though I fell LOTS.
Al McDonald father
During my awkward years. Gotta have vision!  (No Photoshoping!)
Al McDonald grandfather
When he welcomed my husband and invested in our kids and the next generation.

Inspiration

Here is what I learned from my father:

You don’t try, you don’t get.

Opportunities come to those who take risks.  Wise risk-taking centers on identifying your personal perspective on potential gain and potential loss.

Dad spoke of decision he had made where colleagues had focused on the discomfort (moving internationally with young kids to a country speaking a foreign tongue) or the downsides (leaving headquarters and the center of power).

He had seen and sought out challenge and growth opportunities…and choosing the less travelled road made all the difference.

Keep growing.

My dad embraced life through learning.  He devoured books.  He sought opportunities to go out of his comfort zone.  And he only settled for excellence.  If we could do better, then why settle for less. 

When he read our report cards, his tone of voice changed from satisfaction to questionning when an “A” turned into an “A – “!  Yes, he put on pressure to perform!

Maybe in reaction to this intensity, each of his four children chose a career path quite different from his.  And yet, we each integrate love of excellence, hunger for understanding, and wonder of life.

Be strong
…and sometimes that means being weak.

For the first half of his life, my father sought strength through power. He reached his level of professional success through exceptional strategic intellect, political savvy…and some bulldozing.

When I entered college, my father’s faith in Jesus Christ had a transforming impact on his life.  Before, Dad “did the right religious moves.” On Sundays he was a respected church member.  Yet, during the week, he forged forward, sometimes leaving debris on the wayside.

Then he chose to follow Jesus. Not just to proclaim allegiance, but to put his beliefs into action.  I remember a special dinner when I was in college. He asked for forgiveness for the mistakes he may have made as a father.  It’s not that he suddenly became Mr. Nice Guy and immediately adopted non-violent communication tools.  It was a beginning of a new trend, of seeking strength through humility.

The end of his life is crowned in tenderness.

Last photo with my dad
My last photo with my father.

Fun

Dad had two things read to him the day he died.  The Bible and the lunch menu.  He loved God’s word and fine dining.

We are having a party to celebrate his life and legacy.  I am soooo looking forward to being with people he loved and to cherishing his memory and their company.  What fun!

 

Next…

I am taking time off from these TGIF letters.  We can be so busy doing.  Doing our work.  Being busy.

I want to take some time to be.  Sip tea with my mom.  Bask in sunshine.  Celebrate Christmas, family, and life.  Clarify priorities for the new year.

Let’s stay in touch.  With love and appreciation,

Denise

TGIF - Halloween in Paris

TGIF – Collective Intelligence on Halloween

Helloooooooo…..  How was your week and Halloween?  It inspired me for the TGIF – Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Fun.

Trust

“What do you do when there is a relationship challenge at work?” It’s a question I often ask folk around me.

Many people respond with some kind of avoidance.  Either to avoid the issue  (“I pretend it’s OK.  It’s not worth making a fuss over it.”) or they try and create distance with the person (“I look for another job.”)

I have been helping professionals find alternative ways to handle these uncomfortable situations and to come out with win-win solutions.  We meet as a group with the specific purpose of identifying alternative ways to manage difficult and delicate situations.  The results are amazing.

I am trusting in the power of collective intelligence.

People feel heard.  They realize other people share similar issues.  When someone else experiences the problem, they are able to step back and find helpful solutions to get unstuck.  They also hear of alternative ways to overcome the problem, ideas they would not have come up with on their own!

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. – John Donne

Here is how it works: one person presents a challenging issue.  The others share what they would do if they were in that situation.  We address topics as varied as

  • How to manage the colleague who is trying to impress your boss when you are presenting a new project
  • How to get team members to meet their deadlines
  • For are a company with a kitchen for coffee and tea.  How to handle doing the dishes in a fair and just way?
  • How to better include the foreigner (or woman or the “different one”…) in decision-making
  • ….

I lead these groups within companies (where people know each other) and with groups that get together with the sole purpose of transforming “stuck-in-the-muck” into do-able inspiration.

Gratitude

I am reading Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Aldom.  It’s a collection of conversations between a previous student and his dying professor (he has ALS known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.   The body loses muscle control, starting from the feet and moving up.  There is no cure.)

Here is what Morrie Schwartz says about the window. (!!!!)  How often are you and I grateful for a window?!

He nodded towards the window with the sunshine straming in.  “You see that?  You can go out there, outside anytime.  You can run up and down the block and go crazy.  I can’t do that.  I can’t go out.  I can’t run. But I appreciate that window more than you do.

I look out that window every day.  I notice the change in the trees, how strong the wind is blowing. It’s as if I can see time actually passing through that window-pane.  Because I know my time is almost done.  I am drawn to nature like I’m seeing it for the first time.

Inspiration

Here are a few more inspiring nuggets from Morrie

“Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.

Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

It is inspiring to read about death without it being gory or dreary.  Death is a reality.  Maybe you too have aging parents.

Thank you Morrie for the inspiration to challenge me to live every day as PRECIOUS.

Fun

Collective intelligence and Halloween got me thinking.  Lots of eyeballs giving fresh perspectives and many brains all together.

eyeballs and brains

Yes, we did have Trick-or-Treaters come by our Parisian home.  I offered them eyeballs, brains, or toffee….eeeeehhhhhh!

“Can I taste an eyeball?” !!!!!

Cracked me up.  Lots of fun.

 

Wishing you a great week.  A bientôt (next week), Denise

TGIF - Trust Gratitude Inspiration Fun

TGIF – Thanks for saying, “Thank you”

Hello.  I just returned from a visit with my aging parents.  What a bittersweet time of memories and tenderness.  That’s why I am trusting in gratitude.  Read on for the entire TGIF rundown – Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, & Fun!

Trust

Thankfulness is a game changer.  I’m trusting in gratitude.

This past week, I spent doing some pretty unpleasant, menial tasks as I cared for my parents.

Holding hand of aging parent
From Long Island Pulse online magazine.

Their genuine and heartfelt thanks made serving them easy and tender.  I experienced first-hand how gratitude transforms a chore into an opportunity to connect.  I am trusting in the transformational power of gratitude.

Image from Tinybop

Gratitude

I am grateful for the clear-headedness of my recent workshop participants.  I was leading a session on project management and one of the members fainted.  One second she was standing.  The next she lay inert on the floor.

The group of upcoming leaders rallied to her succor: two rushed off to secure medical assistance, others led stragglers out of the room to keep the place calm, others kept talking to her and rubbing her face, … Each person found a practical way to contribute to an unexpected and potentially dangerous situation.

Everyone survived…and as a group, we thrived.

Inspiration

On September 30, 2019 Jessye Norman died and left this earth.  What an inspiration of character, hard work, grit, as well as talent.

I love how she interpreted the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, at the 200th anniversary of the French revolution.

Jessye Norman’s dress à la French flag. Seen here with the designer, Azzedine Alaïa.

Here she is captivating the French audience with her talent.  Click on the image to enjoy the short video!

Jesse Norman sings La Marseillaise

Fun

Tomorrow I’m going apple picking!  Fun & Yummmm…

 

Wishing you a great week.

A bientôt (next week), Denise

Neat & New Stuff

Enjoy these posts inspired by my father’s wisdom:

“Aging isn’t for sissies!”

What’s YOUR Focus Word?

Boy looking through telescope. Searching Focus word!

As life passes, one realizes time is…limited.  That’s a focusing thought!  Read on…

 

When It’s Urgent to Reflect

Man reflecting in parkI wrote this post after a hearing a professor speak on leadership and reflexion at a Harvard Business School reunion.  My father had encouraged me to attend the school and the place holds a soft spot for us.   Read on…

Serenity.  To Accept the Things We Cannot Change

Serenity of lighthouseWe cannot change the passage of time and the impact it has on our bodies and our relationships.  But discover what we can do about it!  Read on…

Interview with Elizabeth Moreno, CEO of Lenovo France

Jumping across rocks. Risk taking.Lenovo speaks of taking risks:  how she learned how to embrace risk-taking with confidence and thrive.  Read on…

TGIF - sooo much homemade jam

TGIF – 5-Minute Daily Preview. Sweet!

Oh, what a beautiful day.  It’s Friday and TGIF – Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, & Fun!

Trust

At the beginning of each day most days,  I take five minutes to think of the people with whom I will be connecting during that day.  I am trusting in how these few moments change me.

When I approach an encounter with fine-tuned expectations and a productive attitude, the exchange we have later in the day benefits.

Previewing the day

Here is what I review in those brief minutes:

  • How do I feel about meeting with them?
  • What might they be anticipating?
  • What result would I like from our exchange?

AND

  • What attitude do I need to have to make it a positive encounter?

These five minutes boost the pleasure and the efficiency of my time with these folks.

I might have taken a person’s work as a given and take time to recall and appreciate the effort they invested.  Or I realize that I need to clarify the desired outcome of a meeting.

These 5-Minute Previews also make me mindful of and grateful for the unplanned encounters during the day.  It’s a gift when

  • At the coffee machine, we meet the person we were trying to track down
  • We were able to connect with someone by text and get the needed information or support

I am trusting in applying respectful communication tools and to staying respectful even especially when it’s tough.

Gratitude

It’s bee-thanking time again.  We harvested our hives and put the honey in jars.  And thanks to those buzzing beauties, the fruit trees were pollinated, and I was able to make a TON of jam.

The grocers at our local market must be thankful for me.  My “jamming” keeps them in business!

Honey and homemade jams

Inspiration

I am hoping to be inspired by Marie Kondi, the tidying specialist.  The first chapter into her book prepared me to be inspired.  She speaks of changing mindset which then, naturally, leads to altered behavior.

This is what I teach in my constructive communication classes!

And yet, I feel (fear?) that reading the book implicates work.  Effort.  Part of me prefers to take life easy AND not deal with the consequences!!!!!  Sooner than later, reality checks in.

That’s what my trainees must feel (fear?) too!

I’ll read the book…or watch the Netflix.

Tidy up and spark joy

Fun

The exchanges of our family WhatsApp group have been particularly fun-filled this week.

When used well, WhatsApp groups can create community and bring people close together despite long distances.

Warning:  Especially when the group is large, it’s good to set ground rules.  Twenty “😍” and “👍” get redundant.

Here is a glimpse of our family “discussion” when one son took his driving test…

Fun family conversation

What fun are you planning for this weekend?  We all benefit from some nice, clean (tidy) fun!
😀😀😀😀😀😀 ….

 

Wishing you a great week.

A bientôt (next week), Denise

Neat & New Stuff

4 Gifts Colleagues Crave…and Never Make the List

Birthday Wishes for adult

What do you offer your team members for their birthday?  Chocolate? Nothing!  

Try these gifts which build belonging and confidence.

Read on…

The Million Dollars Birthday Chair

Boys blowing out birthday candlesGet lots of bang for little buck with this fun way to celebrate birthdays.  Works with kids of all ages, those at home and folk at work.

Read on…

 

TGIF-rain in paris

TGIF – Us vs. Them

Hello for the weekly rendez-vous on Friday.  TGIF – Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Fun.

Trust

I am trusting in the Power (and sweetness) of Diversity.

Diversity in icecream. Tin Pot Creamery

This past Monday France was on holiday for Pentecost.  It is the Christian “Diversity Day,” and what happened that day holds insights for how we create or break a sense of belonging. Let me explain.

Pentecost is a day when the group became defined by its center, not by its barriers.

Pentecost marks the day when the news about Jesus’ resurrection became international news.  His disciples, mostly uneducated small-town fishermen, spoke Hebrew and were following the Jewish calendar of celebrating Passover in Jerusalem. The city was full of people who traveled from other nations to celebrate the feast.  According to the Bible*, on Pentecost the disciples were given a supernatural ability to speak these foreign languages and told about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

In 2019 terms, this is like being confused while watching a foreign movie without subtitles. Then, amazingly, the actors come to you and play the scene in your own language and you understand.

What does this have to do with diversity?  Many groups are defined by their border.  It’s a barrier which describes who is “in” and who is “OUT.” 

  • We are women, you are men.
  • We are Ivy League School graduates…What’s your background?
  • We are…

and the list goes on.

Pentecost is a day when the group became defined by its center, not by its barriers.  By making the news of Jesus available to people of all languages, the focus became Jesus and not the cultural barriers.

Jesus Mafa African Mary & JesusI am trusting that each of us will choose to focus on common, centering principles such as justice and equal rights.  You and I, as we lead by example and act within our circles of influence, can make a difference in building inclusive cultures within our companies and communities.

And, I love this image of the Madonna and child by Jesus Mafa.  Why should Jesus look like a well-fed, richly clothed Italian infant from the Renaissance period?!   This image made me aware of some of my unconscious biases.

Maybe you too have seen the T-shirts that read, “I met God.  She’s black.” 🙂  When we meet God, I think every one of us will be surprised.

*For the Pentecost story, see Acts chapter 2

Gratitude

Thank you to the people who support the “cause” of others

  • For the men promoting women to leadership
  • For the whites insisting on equal rights for people of other races
  • For the atheists welcoming prayers of the faithful
  • For the healthy investing in equipment for the disabled

I am also grateful to one of my sons, he was about 10 years old at the time, who said, “Mom, you do stuff for Christians.  What do you do for non-Christians?”  That question changed how I invest my time and energy…and eventually to why I am writing you right now.

Thanks, darling.

Inspiration

Following up on these meaning-of-life thoughts, my inspiration this week comes from an Excel file!!!!!!

Isabelle Roux-Buisson is mentoring me on an entrepreneurial project, and she sent me an “Assumptions Dashboard” spreadsheet.  This has been so helpful and grounding.

assumptions entrepreneurs make

Entrepreneurship is like navigating in the fog.  We move forward step by step and try to get as much clarity as possible.  Writing down assumptions gives shape to potential obstacles.  Testing these premises opens the way for opportunities.

Her inspiring impetus boosted me to test market presuppositions and to move from the “I hope” stage to the “that door is closed but this one is open!” phase.

Isabelle is a senior executive in the tech field and a jury for the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition in Europe.  You can learn from her too!  Here is her interview on how she developed Emotional Intelligence throughout various stages of her career.

Fun

Last week, I hinted at our D-Day inspired haircutting ritual.  The Allied forces brought the harbor to Arromanches-les-Bains; we bring our hairdresser to our home.

It’s been going on for over two decades.  That means it’s working…and we make it fun!

Haircut at home for boys
Haricut at home for men

All six of us pass through Adrien Bracon’s expert snips.  When the kids were tykes it was exhausting having them sit still BOTH while in a barber’s chair AND while their brothers’ Chewbacca (massive head of hair) got trimmed.  HELL.

Instead we sip flavored coffee, exchange music, and send emails (!) while getting our hair reshaped.  And since there are six of us, haircutting time always falls around mealtime.  We easily transition to wine and cheese.

These pictures were taken at the same place with the same people, 15 years apart.

I love to take the bore out of a chore.  What small shift in perspective – a reframe – could make your life more pleasant? 

Get in touch.  This is what I talk about with clients: transforming a relationship challenge into an opportunity for growth.

See below the article on fresh perspectives inspired by inclement weather.  The cover image on the TGIF is from Christophe Jacrot, an amazing photographer taking pictures in the snow and rain.  It’s been raining every day in Paris this week.  That was less fun for me, but the plants love it!

Looking forward to being in touch next Friday.

Neat & New Stuff

Interview with Isabelle Roux-Buisson

Isabelle Roux-BuissonIsabelle shares how she leaned on emotional intelligence (EI) skills throughout her career.  Each stage of leadership requires different skills to connect with and motivate team members and other stakeholders. She shares how learned about emotional intelligence and then intentionally integrated these skills into her management style.  Read on…

3 Managerial Insights from Snow in Paris

Paris in the snowIt’s not literally freezing in Paris, but the weather sure is cold for this time of year and intense precipitation falls every day. This post presents fresh perspectives on work that were gained from inclement weather.  It’s a reframing with the intent to make your management as productive and more fun.

Read on…

Looking for Interview Suggestions

Can you recommend a wise leader with a message related to building constructive conversations at work?  Many of you appreciate the interviews I led with tried and tested leaders who overcame challenging conditions.

It would be an honor to know about them and to possibly interview them.  Please send me an email.

Remembering Normandy D-Day

TGIF – Remembering D-Day

Seventy-five years ago, yesterday, the Allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches and defeated the Germans in the Battle of Normandy.  An Allied victory for World War II was in sight.  Nazi exterminations and indoctrinations would be exposed and stopped.

June 6, 1944 remains one of the world-changing days of history.  Our world would be vastly different without that day.  There would be no state of Israel.  Europe would have been “culturally cleansed.” My imagination cannot fathom the consequences.

The above photo is from the movie, The Longest Day which recalls the event.

Trust

Today, I am trusting in Democracy.

It’s a scary thought as I view political unrest among nations.  It is true of countries that boast democratically elected governments and those of other regimes.  So what gives me hope?

Normandy d-day
Town center is named after D-Day, June 6 in 1944

Democracy can and does evolve.  After World War II, when many of the French political leaders were tainted with collaboration with the Nazi’s, the country adopted its 4th constitution.  In order to limit abuse of control, power was concentrated in the legislative branches.  In a divided country, there was insufficient support to implement unpopular reforms.  War, again, led to the establishment of the 5th Republic.  The president, elected by the citizens, runs the country with consultation of the prime minister which he appoints and who is approved by the elected legislative representatives.

With the recent Yellow Jacket unrest there is talk of a 6th republic.  What is the role of the citizen?  What does representation mean in the Age of Information?  Who decides what?

My trust in democracy is like faith as described in the Bible:  confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

I see the need for an evolving democracy.  I trust it will come about.

Gratitude

Gravestone from Normandy D-Day
Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.

THANK YOU to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for you and me 75 years ago.

When our sons were young, we visited Omaha Beach, Arromanches-les-Bains, and the American Memorial and Cemetery in Normandy.  As the boys read the gravestones, they calculated the ages of the soldiers.  Many were 19,20, 21 years old.

These young men did not all fight by choice.  They left behind grieving families.  Each one was a person with a unique story…even the unidentified soldiers.

I am grateful for their sacrifice to me, an unknown stranger of a future generation.

Inspiration

During our visit to the Normandy beaches I discovered the artificial harbor at Arromanches-les-Bains.

Frankly, I had not thought much about wars and how they are fought, lost or won. In this quaint seaside town, I learned of the vital importance of logistics

  • Medical supplies for the wounded
  • Food for the soldiers
  • Gas for the tanks
  • Bullets for the guns

Because of these needs, the Germans expected the Allies to land in an established port.  The waters of Gold and Omaha Beaches were too rough to allow for unloading from tankers and transportation on land.

That’s where the Mulberry Harbor played a vital role.  The British devised a transportable harbor.  What inspirational, ingenious out-of-the-box thinking!

On the horizon, you can still see the sunken cement blocks that created the artificial harbor.

D-Day landing in Normandy
Mulberry Harbor on the horizon…and in front!

Fun

I had fun looking through old family photos to find those of our Normandy beach outings.  When I came across these I laughed out loud.  The hair!  The boys’ energy!

Stay tuned for next week.  We use the Allied philosophy on hair-cutting.  Bring the barber chez nous!

Clearly our family is not perfect…nonetheless, we are precious!

LOL

In the Spotlight

When Values Translate into Behavior

Inspiration from the Normandy D-Day that you and I can apply at work and at home.  It’s about choosing where to invest our time, attention, energy, and finances in order to reach our goals for 30 years from now.

Read on…

Precious or Perfect?  Wisdom from Notre Dame

Being good enough.  Is that perfection?  But we’ll never reach it!

Inspiration from the drama at Notre Dame on the dark sides of perfectionism.  All it takes is a spark to burst into destructive flames!

Read on…

Muslims in prayer

Being an Outsider in the Paris “No Go Zone”

Last week I was invited to lunch in the Paris “No Go Zone” and here is what I learned about being an outsider.

My Outsider Experience

There I was waiting in front of a low-income housing complex in the middle of St Denis, the Paris suburb where Jawad Bendaoud housed the terrorist attackers who stormed the Bataclan on November 13, 2015 and killed 130 music fans and wounded another 413 people.

Equiping Juvenile Delinquents to Contribute Positively

I was invited to lunch at the restaurant Taf & Maffé to join the seven youth in juvenile detention that I was training in social skills.  The town justice service hires me to give wayward youth tools to contribute positively to society.  I love these sessions of authentic exchange and where I grow as much or more as they do.  This lunch opened my eyes wide with discovery.

White Anglo-Saxon, Female, Red-Head Outsider

As a tall, white woman with spikey, bright red hair, I often stand out in a crowd.  Here, surrounded by men of African and Middle Eastern origin, some wearing tunics and prayer caps, I definitely looked out of place.

I felt displaced as well.  My bearings were off.  I consider myself open-minded and had thought I had no specific expectations.  Yet, standing alone in unknown territory, I realized I looked for familiar signs.  Specifically, I searched for the welcoming signboard of a restaurant and a clearly displayed menu to lure me in.  There was nothing of the sort.  Just a high rise and men.  (I saw two women in veils, both begging.)

welcoming restaurant from outsider view
My unrealistic expectation

A man in a tunic pointed me towards the inside of the housing complex and I went in.

Outdoor “Mosque”

Beyond the entrance, in the building’s courtyard, lay a patchwork of colorful rugs.  I had not integrated that we were Friday and that, for the Muslims in St Denis, prayer time began at 1:48 pm. There wasn’t enough space at the mosque, so the “inn” made room for the faithful.

The man pointed me further down a corridor and I walked into a large hall with tables and chairs and people serving out of industrial size cooking pots.  Questioning eyes observed me as I scrutinized the room, noticing the buzz of activity and the full chairs.  I was not expected here either, so I waited outside for my crowd.

The youth finally arrived AND our group kept waiting (!), huddled in the small segment of the sidewalk that basked in the sun.  My confusion grew, yet since the youth were calm-despite-hunger, I remained relaxed-enough too.

Our dining room was being prepared.

Lunch is Served

We were ushered into a 20m² room which served as the office of an association which integrates refugees into France.  They had moved the printers and photocopy machine to the side, stacked papers in piles, and moved the desks to form one large table.  Again, I had not come with set expectations yet discovered that this is not what I had anticipated!  In retrospect I realized I had expected a “Chez Samir,” something like an exotic version of “Chez Sylvie.”

We enjoyed a flavorful, filling, and exotic meal of bissap (hibiscus) juice, chicken maffé (like an African paella), HOT chili sauce, and dégué (millet grain pudding flavored with orange blossom).

Even when everyone had finished eating, we stayed put.  Since I was leading the afternoon training session for the youth, my eye was on the watch.  Yet, as a guest, I let the organizers set the rhythm and opted to let go of control and to enjoy the company and the moment.

Waiting.  Not my Schedule.  Theirs.

By now a group of ten or more of us were huddled in the doorway, with still no indication of movement and easy chit chat around.  Then one of the youths announced, “It’s time.”

While we were eating, the courtyard had filled with men for the mid-day prayer.  Prayer time was now completed; we could open the door.

We joined the crowd of worshipers as they flooded into the street and flowed on their way.

I grew from the experience of being an outsider.

My Take-Aways from being an Outsider

Open-Mindedness

I (re)learned that open-mind is not a state of being that one reaches.  It’s a journey…that goes deeper and deeper.

As a Protestant white American married to an atheist French man from West Indies descent, I think of myself as open-minded.   Our marriage would not have lasted twenty-seven years had we not each made considerable concessions to and for each other.

Yet an open-mind cannot be earned and worn as a Scout badge for public recognition.  As I acknowledged my surprised reactions to these unknown surroundings, I discovered untrod paths of open-mindedness and traveled further along the journey.

Unconscious Bias

A decade ago, few people were aware of unconscious biases.  Now, “unconscious bias” is an often-heard, sometimes-understood term.

Unconscious bias. Lots of outsiders
Growth in awareness of unconscious bias over 15 years

Here is how the University of California, San Francisco defines it.  

“Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values. Certain scenarios can activate unconscious attitudes and beliefs. For example, biases may be more prevalent when multi-tasking or working under time pressure.”

I confess, I had thought I was addressing and uncovering (a.k.a. eliminating) my unconscious biases fairly well.   Yet during my visit to Saint Denis, a neighborhood physically close to my home and yet culturally far removed from my norm, I kept bumping into my assumptions.

I expected restaurants to have outdoor signs and buildings to welcome residents, not worshipers.

Mostly, I realized that we (you and I included) have an uncanny bias towards thinking that we might be unbiased!  LOL

Empathy

The best way to grow in empathy is to get out of our comfort zone.

Authentic empathy comes from the heart.  It is experienced.  It is not an intellectual thought.

Alone on that sidewalk I felt insecure, with a loss of bearings.  Taking initiatives required effort and felt risky.  Instead of my usual proactive self, I waited for others to make the first move.

I caught a glimpse of what it feels like to be excluded.

In the past, I responded to other people’s slowness, reactivity, and lack of self-confidence with critique.  “C’mon.  Get over it.”  Thanks to my work in constructive collaboration, I have learned to replace judgement with encouragement.

I did not need advice on that street corner.  I needed courage poured into me and the strength that comes from a benevolent presence.

Transformative Trainings

In St Denis, I was hired to open these youths’ eyes, minds, and even hearts.  Through soft skills training and building their self-awareness and other-awareness, we connected constructively.  Here were their parting thoughts:

  • Hope
  • Motivation to look for a job
  • Confidence in myself

These youth also opened my eyes, mind, and heart.  That’s what I love about our workshops on constructive collaboration tools.  Through role plays and team activities we create a safe space for learners to step outside of their comfort zone.  They are free to laugh at themselves, to discover new insights, and to choose how and how much to grow.

For YOUR Team Too

Find out more about these trainings to bring out the best performance and collaboration from your teams.  We define our training program according to your organization’s needs.

Are you seeking to build a more inclusive culture?  We help build self-awareness, empathy, and trust which are pillars to developing a sense of belonging and contribution.

Your success depends upon negotiation skills?  We help you and your team understand other people’s perspectives and balance short- and long-term benefits so that you can negotiate creative outcomes where all parties gain.

You want to give your team a motivational boost?  We help you break down communication barriers and build relationship bridges so that expectations are clear, progress gets recognized, and success is achievable.

Be in touch.  It’s what we do:  transform difficulties into opportunities for growth.

SoSooper = from blooper to sooooo super!

Cover photo from The Great Courses Daily website
Restaurant photo is Chez Sylvain & Sylvie in Bordeaux region

Notre Dame cathedral easter 2019

Precious or Perfect? Wisdom from Notre Dame

Do we have to be perfect to be precious?

On Monday evening, the fire at Notre Dame cathedral decimated the roof and the burning spire (called the “arrow” in French) crashed from the sky to the ground.

Memories disappear in minutes.

The recently cleaned stone, usually brilliant in the sunlight, is now 50 shades darker.

What lies ahead for this most visited site in Europe?  As of Monday evening, donations flowed in to contribute to Notre Dame’s renovations.  She lost her perfection.  She remains precious.

Are you convinced of that in yourself?  Each of us knows that we are not perfect.  Are you and I also convinced that we are precious?

This mindset determines our future.  What we think about ourselves influences how we invest in ourselves to grow.  It also impacts how other people invest in us.

Perfection Perverts Relationships

It took me decades to come to truly know that I am enough.  Period.  I have value as a human being.  Not because of what I do or who I know.  Because I am.

I don’t need to be perfect to be precious.

When I am convinced of that in me, then I can be convinced of that in other people too.

Beforehand, I fixated on being “good enough” by being “better than.”

Comparison focuses one towards critique and reinforces unconscious biases: to find what is “wrong” with the other person and to highlight what is “right” in me.

We find what we seek.

If you and I are looking for weaknesses in others, we will find them.

At the same time, when we seek qualities, we find them too.

The same behavior could even be viewed as either a liability or as a potential strength! It depends upon our mindset.

  • Is your colleague dissipated or highly curious?
  • Is your boss arrogant or focused?
  • Is your child stubborn or a person with convictions?

Wisdom from Notre Dame

Notre Dame has been with Paris for centuries.  Even without her roof, she remains precious.  Maybe even more so.  She “needs” us now.

Perfection Perverts Perception

We all make judgements about people, and our predisposition is to believe that we are right. 🙂

Psychologists warn us of several ingrained biases.  The correspondence bias is when someone makes conclusions about another person’s character based on a behavior.  Context is insignificant.

  • When Samira leaves a large tip at a restaurant, she is considered generous. We overlook the specifics of the situation.
  • When Sydney arrives late to work, he is unorganized or uncommitted. No excuses.

On top of the correspondence bias we add the actor-observer bias where a person undervalues the situational influence in other people’s behavior and over-values it in his own.

  • When you or I just landed a lucrative contract and leave a large tip at the restaurant, we might feel generous.  It is our mood, not who we are.
  • When you or I arrive late, the traffic was terrible. We are not making excuses; we are relating a fact!

The perfectionist mindset limits someone’s ability to accept these research-proven biases.  Divergent viewpoints would call our analysis into question and destabilize our sense of value and entire being!

For the perfectionist to “be right,” other people are wrong.

Wisdom from Notre Dame

Among the statues of Notre Dame (and they still stand), we find both saints and goblins.  Grotesque gargoils don’t make her beastly.  Gorgeous handiwork does not make her divine.

Reframing Empowers
Reframing Frees from Perfectionism

True or False: “I see it, therefore it is real.”

I have learned we see what others choose to show.

Few of us expose our dark sides.  In fact, we go to great extents to hide them, sometimes even to ourselves.  We readily display confidence and results-orientation at work and keep out of sight the fear of not measuring up or lack of motivation.  These represent the underwater portion of the iceberg,

Fear drives many of us to invest time and energy to hide our imperfections.

Fear of what?  Fear of whom?

Naming our emotions initiates our ability to tame them.  

I have also learned that facing our emotions is an effective way to live life with few regrets.  That is what I wish for you and for me.

Wisdom from Notre Dame

I arrived in Paris after my MBA to work in marketing at l’Oréal.  Our training included six months in the field meeting customers.  My work week began early on Tuesday mornings as I headed by train to a provincial French town to arrive in time for store opening at 10 o’clock.  I returned to Paris well into Saturday evening, where my friends were already galivanting around town.  Not surprisingly, they did not want to go out on Sunday night.

I was lonely.

On top of that, my boss believed in motivation by critique.

I was demoralized.

That’s when I regularly walked the streets of Paris on my own and frequently rested on the Pont de la Tournelle which has a view on the back of Notre Dame.

I marveled at how, from the front, the cathedral’s towers emanated strength and majesty.  The buttressed rear view exposed another angle: architectural ingenuity and graceful stone.  The slim buttresses are essential to hold up the imposing towers and the elegant spire.

There is more than one viewpoint.

The same applies to my life and yours too.

I stand in awe before Notre Dame’s regal facade.  It’s her “imperfect” side that encouraged me.   In those solitary months, she helped me learn to like being with myself.

Perfect to Grow

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” – Aristotle

Wisdom set in stone.

You and I have a task: to embrace our limitations so that we can learn.

Did you know there is a bell named Denis at Notre Dame?!

Bells of Notre Dame
The new bells on display in February 2013. My namesake, the Denis bell.

 

 

 

 

How to move from book-wise to street-smart

I help teams collaborate constructively, to work smart together.  It means training them in positive teamwork theory and creating the environment of trust so that they apply what they learn.

Knowing what to do and doing it are two different stories!

To do this, I lead workshops and create “Aha! Moments” of self-discovery where participants realize how their behavior impacts other people.

  • “You mean when I say, ‘Whatever!’ it gets my manager really frustrated?!”
  • “You mean, the way a person listens determines the kind of information the other person shares?!”

Once they have grown in self-awareness, we move on to learn tools to build both performance and connection.

Knowing what to do and doing it are two different stories! 

Nike says, “Just do it.”

Even the Vice-Dean of Sciences Po business school, Olivier Guillet, calls for action.  In his interview, he recounted the incident when a philosophy professor sought business advice.  The insights he needed to hear (know what you can control, act on those, don’t sweat the rest) were those he taught in his Introduction to Stoics class!  He had not transposed his knowledge into the situation.

This story resonated with me as I notice a similar trend in my trainings.  People love to learn.  Applying the learnings are more of a challenge!

How can we accompany folk in translating a fascinating concept into a helpful new mode of operating?

Some people refer to this as moving concepts from the head to the heart.

Albert Einstein also talks about this phenomenon.  He challenges us to step into a new kind of thinking:  we cannot resolve our challenges by applying the same reasoning that created them.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”
Albert Einstein

Avoid getting lost in translation

Confusion

Changing our behavior is like learning another language.

Speak a Foreign Language

The first stage is confusion and discomfort.  We are out of our comfort zone!

To translate this into business terms, we might wonder why bother even learn about emotional intelligence or constructive collaboration skills.  It is unfamiliar vocabulary…and you have lived without it until now.

Most of us lived without romance…and then it swept us off our feet.

Translate from Theory-Wise to Street-Smart

Let’s consider the foreign language of listening.  Listening to our colleagues, our bosses, and our clients.

Most of us think we do it well…until we have a mirror-like experience.  That is when we discover that instead of asking open-ended questions, we make inquiries that can be answered with “Yes’ or “No.”  Or we think a colleague is rude and interrupts and we realize that in our moments of enthusiasm we cut her off in mid-thought.

Until we open ourselves up to feedback, there is no realization that there might be a better option.

One Phrase

Next, we can manage using one new relationship tool in a specific situation.  It’s like knowing one sentence in a foreign tongue.

Speak a Foreign Language

I recall being in a French boulangerie (bakery) and an American tourist walked in and very carefully pronounced the sentence he had practiced, “Je veux une tarte tatin.” (“I would like a‘tarte tatin.’”)

The baker responded, “Hein?” (“What?”) before she understood the words spoken with the unfamiliar accent.  Then she rattled on in French about how he had chosen the right bakery for this French delicacy because theirs was definitely the best.  And so one and so forth.

The tourist gave her a blank stare, took a deep breath, gathered his strength, and responded, “Je veux une tarte tatin.”

Translate from Theory-Wise to Street-Smart

In a training context, this likens to situational activities or role plays where we simulate a typical professional interaction.  Participants are engaged and learn.  Yet they refer to a skit; this is not about them.

One exercise consists of five types of listening:  distracted,  critical, and eventually to active listening.  Learners can name the listening styles, yet they do not realize how they listen under varying circumstances.

First Exchange

At the close of my trainings, I ask learners to share what they will put into practice.  Many pause, almost with surprise.  It is a moment when they realize they attended the workshops looking for tips to change other people (!).  They are invited to alter their own behaviors.  Yikes!

Be prepared to not get “it” right the first time.  As one start-upper called it, “Test and try.”  He did not say, “Practice in front of the mirror, record yourself ten times, then test it.”  Get into the discomfort zone and learn so that next time it will be easier and smoother.

The biggest change is more about deciding to change yourself than in applying any one specific tool.

Speak a Foreign Language

It is like going to the bakery and using sign language to point to various desserts and asking, ”Café?  Caramel?  Chocolate?!” and with your fingers indicating that you’ll take two, please (smile and make a happy face).  The purpose is to communicate and move forward.  Forget the perfect phraseology.

Translate from Theory-Wise to Work-Smart

In my trainings, learning is enjoyable and engaging.  It is also for a purpose.  Which relationship do you want to take to the next level of trust and cooperation?  What will you test and try?

Conversation

After practice and repeated efforts, we learn fluency.  This applies as much with new modes of behavior as it does with a foreign language.  When we learn to drive a car, it is hard to light the turn signal and focus on the road.  Soon it becomes automatic.

Speak a Foreign Language

I have been living in Paris more than half my life.  People no longer ask me, “Do you think in French or do you think in English and translate your thoughts?” It’s now a non-issue.

Translate from Theory-Wise to Work-Smart

At the start, it will feel awkward to listen differently.  In fact, when we first try to change the way we listen…we usually don’t change!

And yet, we become aware after the fact that there might have been an opportunity for a different outcome to a conversation had we managed our side in another way.

We might then ask trusted team members to provide a feedback loop.  “If I talk before I listen, let me know.”

With practice, we recognize the cues on our own and learn to adapt even while during a conversation.  We learn to put aside that super-interesting thought we wanted to share soooo badly and concentrate on what other folks have to say.  We even notice that team members may be more intelligent that we had previously thought!

Practice might not make collaboration perfect.  It sure makes teamwork more productive and enjoyable. 

And the person who looks back at us in the mirror SMILES. 

Business man with gas mask. Toxic behavior.

What is a “Toxic Employee”?

Last week we began a series on managing “toxic employees.”

One reader inquired, “What, exactly, is a toxic employee?”

It is such a great (and obvious) question, that we’re addressing it now before going on to additional constructive communication tools to develop collaboration with these colleagues.

What is a “Toxic Employee”?

“Toxic employee” is one of those phrases that gets thrown around without clarification.

People are not toxic.  Behaviors are.

People get labeled according to their behaviors.

“She’s a high potential.”

“He’s totally toxic.”

Read about labels that create a disconnect with listeners.

worldview-beliefs-values-behaviors icebergOur actions stem from our beliefs and attitudes.  You and I operate according to our conscious and unconscious convictions.

Just because a person bravely stands up to a bully does not make her a brave person in all circumstances.  She sure acted with courage in this instance. This strengthens her and others’ confidence that she could do so under even more challenging conditions too.

Similarly, someone who trips over his feet is not a klutz.  He acts clumsy.

Who we are is more than how we act.

Mindset Matters

The purpose of this series on toxic behavior at work is to present solutions which foster lasting, constructive behavior.

We do so by addressing the beliefs behind the behaviors.

Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Dr. Carol Dweck, professor at Columbia University, identified two underlying attitudes towards growth.  These attitudes either extend or constrain our view of ourselves and of others.

People with the Fixed Mindset believe that people have qualities and they reach a maximum capability level and cannot go further.  Like our height.  My brother, a longstanding adult, is 6’2”.  He won’t grow taller.

Folk with a Growth Mindset consider that we can change throughout life.  Like muscle.  My brother joined a gym. His biceps are more pronounced than a few months ago!

Moving Between Mindsets

Through our interactions with people we can encourage either of these mindsets.

Labels move people towards the fixed mindset. This is true whether it’s a positive or negative label.  Once identified as toxic, always problematic.  Once considered high-potential, always more is expected of them.

I seek to orient people towards the growth mindset and do so through constructive communication tools that provide choices within clear limits. This approach to communication renders people responsible for their actions and invites collaboration and mutual respect.

These tools are founded on the psychological principles of Dr. Alfred Adler and have been confirmed by neuroscience.  For example, Dweck describes that people with a fixed mindset focus on declarative statements.  “This is the way it is.  Period.”  Growth mindset folk entertain questions.  “What will it take to move from here to there?”

Dweck asserts that people can change mindsets.  The realization that these two worldviews exist has helped many recognize their fixed mindset tendencies and to intentionally focus on developing more of a growth perspective.

Toxic behavior is often a symptom of a fixed mindset.  The person believes his label is superior to another’s.  They therefore deserve special treatment.  (They can be a bigger victim too.)

The purpose of this series on toxic behavior at work is to present growth mindset solutions to

  • Avoid falling into a fixed mindset trap
  • Invite challenging employees to grow
    … thanks to relationship tools that are simultaneously firm and kind
  • Be in expectation that the colleague can and will progress

Toxic Behaviors at Work

When a person spreads rumors, it’s poisoning the atmosphere.

When a boss misuses power, he is killing trust.

I have noticed two categories of particularly venomous behaviors:  undermining colleagues and expecting favored treatment.  These share a worldview of needing to be “superior to others.”

Here is how they might be expressed at work:

Undermining colleagues

  • Stealing ideas and taking the credit for oneself
  • Spreading rumors
    “Too bad Stacey lacks confidence.”
  • Focusing on faults and publicizing them
    “Here comes Joe who makes spills coffee on his pants.”
  • Initiating power struggles, as in passive-aggression
    “Too bad you did not take into account this information before making the decision.” They then present data that would have been helpful earlier.

Expecting favored treatment

  • Abusing power, no matter the level of responsibility
  • Judging others for behaviors they consider acceptable for themselves
    “Sam is so irresponsible for being late. I, however, have a legitimate excuse.”
  • Requesting special favors
    “I should get two presents at the holiday party because …” (it happened)
  • Complaining

These behaviors leave a sour taste in the mouth.  The value of people has been sullied.

Creating an Environment where People Grow

People can change.  Colleagues with toxic behavior can become collaborative team members (and visa versa).  I have personally seen it happen on numerous occasions.  The name SoSooper stands for becoming super through bloopers.  By learning from our professional and personal mistakes, we prosper in making a living and in life.

Change first

THE EFFECTIVE WAY OF CHANGING OTHER PEOPLE IS TO FIRST CHANGE YOURSELF.

Imagine a tennis ball bouncing against a wall.  When you throw it repeatedly the same way, the ball will bounce back in a predictable fashion.  How to get the ball to bounce differently?

  • Change the ball
  • Change the way you throw
  • Change the wall

Changing other people is like trying to alter the shape of the ball.  It means constraining it into another shape, like force-wrapping it in tape.  It works AS LONG AS THE PRESSURE LASTS.  It’s uncomfortable for the person being compacted (and they resist), and it’s a pain to continuously apply pressure.

Create growth opportunities

The relationship tools in this series (and throughout my blog and in my trainings) present ways to change the way we toss a ball.  We act differently SO THAT the person with unacceptable behavior faces the responsibility and results of his acts.  These tools create learning situations which invite a constructive response from the offending party.

In the previous post, we looked at addressing toxic behavior by acknowledging a rift in the relationship, admitting we could have a role in it, and having them recognize that they share a responsibility in it too.  Those tools were not about telling them about their faults.  “Something is wrong with our interactions (not with you).  Tell me how you understand the situation.”

This approach demands, in a firm and kind manner, that the other person account for his behavior.

Read: Alternatives to Firing Toxic Employees – Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it

When we change our behavior, it impacts multiple relationships. When we stop complaining to other colleagues about someone else’s toxic behavior, we open up to creativity and become more productive with all our team members.  The environment flourishes.

Toxic Example

Consider this actual situation.  One boss, in the guise of being helpful, would touch women inappropriately.  When they were in private, he would say with concern, “You have a thingee on your sweater,” and reach over and pluck a crumb (real or imagined?) from her chest.

He’s the boss.  It’s her bosom. That’s an abuse of power.  It’s also difficult to react to.

How to respond to unacceptable behavior in a way that respects yourself (setting clear limits) and respects the other person (not stooping to shame and blame behavior)?

Fixed Mindset Responses

She wanted to exclaim, “You jerk!”

That labels him and more firmly instills him in a fixed mindset.

She could respond with a clear command, “Please keep your hands off my chest.”

He is surely prepared for such a reaction and, with assumed hurt, would assure that he only wanted to help.  HE is the victim for having been misunderstood.

Toxin diffusers worm their way out of responsibility.

Take Responsibility & Render Responsible

Consider this way of addressing the delicate dilemma with an “I” Message, one of the constructive communication tools that effectively establishes limits and invites the offender to a more respectful behavior.  (“I” Messages are the topic of the next post.)  Here is how it could play out:

A few days later, when the woman has had time to gather her thoughts, she is ready to set limits and point to positive collaboration. “When you plucked that crumb off my sweater, I felt uncomfortable and perplexed because I consider my chest to be a private space and yet our relationship is professional.”

Pause.

“I feel more comfortable when there is a clear distinction between the two.”

The disruptive behavior has been contained without judging the person as toxic.

 

She cannot control his response, and we will address this further next week.  In the meantime, please leave questions or comments below.

Read: Alternatives to Firing Toxic Employees – Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it