You Can’t Help if You Don’t Take the Oxygen Mask

At some point in your career, you will inevitably encounter a situation where the most important aspect of your job will be supporting someone else – maybe one person, maybe a department, maybe your entire organization.

Here’s the thing. If you don’t first take care of yourself, you will be in no position to take care of anyone else. This is the reason for the flight attendant saying to put the oxygen mask on yourself before placing on anyone else.

Understand that it’s not selfish to practice self-care – or whatever you call it. You can’t bring your best if you don’t first take care of yourself.

You are also showing your team and your org that you are human, humans require care, and it’s not only safe for you to be human, but it’s safe for others as well, and you will support them as they care for themselves as well.

It is our responsibility as leaders to not only take care of ourselves, but to also create that safety for others to understand the strength both required and displayed at recognizing when you need to take a breath.

Your breath may not look the same as someone else’s. What refills and renews you is personal, and what works for you may not work for someone else, but it’s not for them – it’s for you.

Take care. Love yourself enough to be healthy to help others. You have no idea how much they need you – even if they don’t ask.

Legacy: What Do You Want to be Known For?

I had a manager call me about an issue this week, and the guidance that I provided on how to handle the situation reminded me of something I witnessed in my very first HR job, and it got me thinking that I will always remember my first HR boss for the way she handled that situation.  That is the legacy she left with me.

YEARS ago, when I was in my very first HR Assistant role, we had a receptionist up front at our organization who was the first impression to every candidate, customer, you name it.  This receptionist came to us via a temp to hire situation, and I’m pretty sure it was the first job she had where she was supposed to dress professionally.  She did her best, but they didn’t quite fit – especially the skirts.  If you haven’t had the honor of having the “your clothes are inappropriate for the workplace conversation,” you really aren’t living.  Yes, I’m being facetious.

It wasn’t just the fact that my boss handled the situation that has always stood out to me, it was HOW she handled it.:

She didn’t send a blanket e-mail to the entire company, reminding everyone of our dress code policy.  HR is not the dress code police, and don’t let anyone make you the dress code police. 

She did 2 things:  1.  She talked to the employee, privately, and asked her how she could help her.  During the conversation, the employee confided to my boss that she could not afford nice clothes, and so she was buying her suits in the juniors department – hence the short skirts.  My boss did not judge her or give her some ultimatum about the dress code policy.  My boss bought her clothes that she could wear to work.  2.  My boss didn’t tell a soul, and the only way that I found out was because the receptionist shared the story.

How amazing is that?  We don’t all have the ability to buy our teams new clothes, but we have the ability to meet people where they are and ask them what they need.  I will never forget the way she handled that, and I can only hope that at some point in my career, I leave a similar impression with my team:  I tried every day to be better for them than I was the day before, and I helped them to be the best they could be for their future teams.

What is the legacy you want to leave behind?  What are you doing today to work towards that?

Do It Anyway

We’ve all been there.  Someone on our team or in our organization is behaving in a manner that would not exactly motivate us to want to help…may cause us to want to react defensively or simply ask “why should I help them when they are being so difficult?”

Do it anyway.  Help because that’s the right thing to do.  You are not in leadership and certainly not in HR for the accolades, so keep that in mind, perform whatever visualization exercise you need to get through it, and help anyway.

There is no ego in HR.  I repeat:  THERE IS NO EGO IN HR.  I’m sorry if you didn’t read the brochure through to the end, but we are servant leadership for the organization.  I’ve been fortunate in my career that my senior leadership, i.e., the C-suite had my back and supported not only me but HR.  I know that not everyone is as fortunate as I have been, and I’m truly sorry to hear that, but that is not an excuse to not care and to not help in whatever way you can.  Your behavior is not defined or dictated by other people’s behavior – EVER.

Not everyone will want your help.  Not everyone will value HR or understand why they should value HR, and you have a unique opportunity to demonstrate that value and maybe change a mindset, but don’t spend too much effort there.  People change when they want to.  Don’t take it personally.

Good news:  there are thousands of other professionals like you dealing with the same types of things, and we all have your back.  We’ve been there and survived, and you will, too.

We all made the choice between focusing on ourselves or focusing on others.  I can tell you that I have never regretted helping.

Be kind anyway.

Succeed anyway.

Be happy anyway.

Do good anyway.

Give your best anyway.

HELP anyway.

It’s never been about them.  You know what’s right, do it.

Resolutions? Simple. Be Kind. Stay Positive

It seems simple enough, but I hope that we all share a resolution this year and every year:  Be Kind.  Stay Positive.

There are very few situations in life and business where a little kindness and positivity can’t help.  When a mistake is made, humility and kindness go a long way.  Likewise with communication mishaps or misunderstandings.

Kindness and a spirit of curiosity vs judgment is essential in conflict and when dealing with uncharted territory as well.  There are very few things that are irreparable.  They may take work to correct – and sometimes a LOT of work, but very few things can’t be fixed, and if we can all keep that in mind, I think we’ll treat each other a lot differently.

Assuming AND COMMUNICATING positive intent can be the difference behind “We are trying this new process to improve the business, and we are excited about it – please provide feedback along the way so we can make sure we all succeed!” vs. “Look, don’t shoot the messenger.  They have no idea how much work we already have to do, and now they are changing it AGAIN.  I tried to go to bat for you, but they don’t listen to me, either.”  Positivity and kindness – difference makers.

If you lead teams, you represent the organization for them.  Resolve to be a positive representation of the organization.  If you are optimistic for the future of your department and the organization, your team will take their cues from you.  Let’s all aim to build more bridges, lift our teams up, and to begin 2019 with 365 chances to have a fresh perspective each day.  We will inevitably catch ourselves not living this value.  Forgive yourself and do better the next day.

Be kind and stay positive – to yourself and others.

“Because I Said So” Management is Weak Leadership

I put a lot of thought into my decisions.  I hope you do as well.  I want to make sure if someone, seeking to understand, inquires as to my decision-making process, I can point to how I got there.

I care about people and how my actions may affect them.  I truly care.  This is not a weakness.  I don’t care too much.  In my opinion, you can’t care too much.  You can certainly care too little – but not too much.

In the same token, if I make a suggestion, it’s simply that – a suggestion.  Getting emotionally attached to your big idea clouds the process.  Is it really a great idea, or do you feel that way because you came up with it, and you are not open to the input of others?

While I put considerable thought into my decisions, they are very rarely absolute.  My work is in a state of continuous improvement.  Who doesn’t want to be better?  Sign me up!  I’m constantly reading, listening to podcasts, and seeking feedback to be a better leader, professional, boss, friend, and mother.  I want to make good decisions and do the right thing.

My litmus test:  What’s my reason?  Why do I care about this particular request or guideline?  If the possibility of “because I said so” would even begin to enter my brain, that tells me that I am making a decision to make my life or job easier, and not for others.  I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but that’s weak.  Being a leader isn’t about making our jobs easier.  Leadership is selfless.  Leadership is finding creative ways to say yes instead of always saying no.

I once had a person on my team who was dedicated, passionate about her work, and also happened to have a life outside of work.  Telling people to leave their personal life at home is ridiculous and quite frankly impossible, and I’m proud of us as leaders that we are realizing that.  People have stuff.  Giving them a hard time about their stuff doesn’t make it any easier and certainly doesn’t allow them to focus on their work.  This rockstar on my team had stuff, and you know what?  I let her go handle her stuff and still do her job.  I certainly could have told her that her personal stuff had nothing to do with her job and made a “because I said so, and I’m your boss” decision.  No one wins in that scenario.  She appreciated being treated like a human – with compassion.  She worked hard and was loyal and cared about doing a good job.  My hope is that if she is put in that situation in the future with someone on her team, she remembers to offer compassion instead of judgment or criticism.

Check your ego.  Do the right thing.  Be kind to one another.

How to Make Decisions in Business

How do you make decisions?  Are there charts, graphs, spreadsheets, pages of data?  Yes, data is important, but so are the humans in our care.  Do you include input from those affected, if possible, in your decision-making process?  Perhaps you could glean insight from another perspective that would completely change how to approach a situation.

We learned the difference between right and wrong long ago, and it would appear that we have forgotten how simple that litmus test can be.  The bottom line in any decision first and foremost should be “what is the right thing to do?”  If you can’t do the right thing, go back to the drawing board and work harder.  It’s not always easy to do the right thing.  There can be considerable pushback – it’s not always the easiest, most cost-effective, etc.  However, doing right by our people is priceless in terms of trust, transparency, and confidence in leadership.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to do the right thing by our people.  This is why we are in positions where we have been entrusted to serve others.  It is our great privilege to serve our people, and they are trusting us to keep their best interest at heart when we are making decisions that often have a ripple effect in our organizations.

We must have the courage to make the right decisions – to do that right thing.  We also must work hard to ensure that we are making our workplaces a safe environment with a strong culture of integrity.  We must empower other leaders in our organizations and support them in their courageous efforts.

I’m not naive.  I know this isn’t easy.  I also know that there are times when tough calls have to be made, jobs have to be cut, locations have to be closed, layoffs have to occur, pay has to be frozen.  In times like this, it is in the best interest of the business overall to make these decisions.  We are preserving the business and the ability to continue to operate by making these moves.  This is for the greater good.  I’ve been there.  I’ve done that.  I once had to lay off 20% of the workforce in the morning and co-star in a commercial for the business in the afternoon.  Yes, it was brutal.

While it’s sometimes inevitable to do these things, you always have a choice in how you conduct yourself in the process and how you treat others.

Always behave with integrity in your actions.

Always treat those affected with the utmost care, compassion, and respect.

Always provide as much information behind decisions as possible.  Letting someone know just how difficult the decision was can help them feel a little less like their hard work was in vain.

Always take responsibility for your actions.  Do not blame “corporate” or “your boss” when delivering the news.  Make sure that you understand the why behind what happened so that you can speak to it.  People lose respect for you when you are reduced to a headpiece for “the establishment.”

Do the right thing.  Ask questions when something doesn’t seem right.   Teach your teams to do the same.

What is a Servant Leader?

I was invited by my pastor to participate in a Bible.com Study last week on Servant Leadership called “Kingdom Leadership in Your Workplace,” and I LOVED seeing this perspective.  Whatever your particular faith or beliefs, I believe we can all agree if we are focusing on being better leaders, and in my case, being a servant leader, the quote below will resonate.

In the study, this quote stood out to me:

“Servant leaders value the development of people around them; they build their communities, act authentically, and share power.” [Oxford comma added by me because that’s the right thing to do.]

When we think about our behavior in our organizations, are we showing up in this way?

Value the development of people around you:  Are you focusing your resources and efforts for professional development on yourself, or are you sharing with your team?  Do you support professional growth and development, or are you secretly intimidated by the growth of one or more of your team members?  Examine yourself and share the wealth.

Build your community:  Are you building your team?  How are you supporting your organization?  Do you give back?  Are you a member of your state or local chapter?  Twitter chats?  LinkedIn posts?  There are tons of volunteer leadership positions available through online, local, state, and national professional association chapters – SHRM and otherwise.  I’m in HR, so I became a volunteer leader on the board of my local SHRM chapter, GCHRA.  I’m also now a co-moderator of #JobHuntChat where I help facilitate the conversation between those “in search” and those helping those “in search.”

Act authentically:  Are you being your true authentic self?  If not, what is holding you back?  Is it safe to be authentic in your workplace?  Do you make it safe for others?  If not, what is holding you back?  Are you behaving as the leader you always wanted?  What can you do tomorrow that will bring you closer to bringing your authentic self to situations?

Share power:  We are entrusted with our teams for a reason.  It is our esteemed privilege to serve our teams and our people.  We do them a great disservice by not empowering them to one day lead their own teams.  Empower your people.  Share information.  Communicate often.  Do not be an information miser.  Foster a culture of accountability within your team to empower them.

Are you a servant leader?