It’s Not About the Pajamas

During a recent webinar, my colleagues and I affirmed the notion that the use of video is a significant plus for the many conference calls newly-virtual teams are involved in. We were asked: “How you do convince a team member to use video when he wants reap the work-from-home benefit of wearing pajamas?” I responded, perhaps too quickly, that the pajamas themselves were the problem and that this individual needs to get himself dressed for work.


As a result, I was counseled by two colleagues who disagreed. One made the case that she, always highly productive and highly engaged, frequently rises to join calls well before dawn due to time zone differences, and continues with back-to-back calls until 2pm at which time she changes from her pajamas to street clothes so that she can take a walk outdoors. She makes the point that it’s not about the pajamas. It’s about how the person in the pajamas feels about themselves in that moment. I agree.


Before the day of the webinar, I had never considered that I have a pajama bias. But I do, and it’s rooted in the fact that I was a very early adopter of work-from-home, before it was commonly acceptable. When I started my business in the early 90’s, I did not tell people I worked from home unless asked directly. I worked hard to maintain a professional presence and overcome the stereotype prevalent at the time that people who worked from home were in their pajamas enjoying popcorn or bon-bons, working in-between trips to the washing machine and the refrigerator. While work-from-home has certainly gained credence in the last three decades, this COVID 19 crisis has forced us to deal with the advantages and disadvantages. And, make no mistake, the successes we are having will cause a quantum leap in its acceptance, creating real-estate savings for employers, time savings for employees, and positive environmental impact for society. Yet not all team leaders and team members are having an easy time of it. What can we learn and apply once we are free to return to the workplace?


Employee Engagement and Trust
We are hearing from leaders who are concerned that team members are not working full, productive days at this time. Most probably are not, and our advice, right now, is to have some empathy. Many are parents suddenly faced with childcare and home schooling. Many have limited technology and space options with two or more adults and children sharing devices and online resources. A recent study by Ginger shows that 62% of workers reported losing at least one hour a day in productivity due to COVID-19 related stress, with 32% losing more than two hours per day. These people are not viewing this time as a mini-vacation, a way of taking from their employers. They are doing the best they can do.


We also are seeing leaders extending the benefit of the doubt, building more trust and creating higher levels of engagement than were present before this crisis. Douglas McGregor’s 1950’s theory of work motivation explains the dichotomy we are seeing. McGregor described “Theory X” managers as believing employees have little ambition, avoid responsibility, and are individual-goal oriented. They advocate heightened supervision, external rewards, and penalties. By contrast, “Theory Y” managers believe that self-actualization is the highest level of reward for employees, and adopt a management style which focuses on the drive for individual self-fulfillment. McGregor’s perspective places the responsibility for performance on managers as well as subordinates.

While the COVID crisis most definitely has created an unusual work circumstance, it is pointing out the stark contrast in leaders’ beliefs and behaviors with regard to human motivation. In some cases, it highlights the slow progress we have made since the time of McGregor’s work.


Boundaries and Self Care
Inviting work colleagues into one’s home, albeit virtually, has implications about the boundaries we set up. Sometimes clients will tell me: “I have a work persona and a personal persona. The two do not mix.” Not always, but usually, this indicates an opportunity. Either there is some hidden gem the individual has not chosen to share at work, or they have a set of “work” behaviors born of outdated expectations or poor leadership role models that have become habits – habits that no longer serve a positive, team-focused outcome. We know that vulnerability is a precursor to team trust, and one way to build this is to get to know another as a person, vs. a role. This time we are in offers an interesting paradox – while we are isolated from one another physically, we have an opportunity to share a glimpse into our personal lives – our families, our fears and our sources of joy.


So back to pajamas, and how the person in pajamas feels about him or herself. Is my colleague who jumps out of bed at 4:25 am to join a 4:30 am call giving too much? Has she let work demands encroach on her personal boundaries? In this time when self-care is common topic of conversation, one could surmise that by not allowing herself time for a simple morning rituals such as dressing, eating, or exercising, she is not practicing self-care. I wonder what she would say.


Indeed, it is not about the pajamas. This awful time we are in affords us opportunity for examination. As leaders, we can examine (and challenge) our beliefs and biases about management practices and leadership approaches. As individuals, we can examine our sources of motivation, the degree to which we are willing to be vulnerable, the value we place on our time, and our view of our very self-worth.

Rushed

by Andrea Chilcote

I’ve been rushing a lot lately, even when there’s been no compelling need to. Given that I’ve spent 10 of the last 14 days on vacation, rushing might just be a bad habit.

When I looked up the synonyms for “rush,” I found many words that describe my demeanor. While I can’t say I’ve used all of these words, they sure describe many of my actions: hurry, dash, run, race, sprint, bolt, dart, fly, speed, zoom, scurry, scuttle, scamper, hasten, tear, belt, pelt, scoot, zip, hotfoot it, hightail it

This “problem” came into my awareness precisely because I was on vacation. From the first day, I questioned why I still felt stress, even though I was supposedly free to relax and enjoy. The very first thing I noticed was my language.

“I’ll hurry and shower (or eat, dress, pack – fill in the blank).”

“Let’s dash over there.”

“Speed up!

And I noticed other’s responses:

“There’s no hurry Andrea. Enjoy your lunch.”

“Take your time.”

“Relax. What’s the rush?”

But… did they mean it? Seriously, it’s easy for others to say “relax,” until my pace encroaches on their expectations. Did it?

Analyzing further, I realized that of late I have two speeds, high and off. Off is usually reserved for sleep. High is for everything else, and not everything requires that amount of energy expenditure. And, it sure depletes the enjoyment of simple pleasures.

Have you also experienced this? If you have a habit of pedal-to-the-metal and jackrabbit starts (and I’m not just talking about driving), what are the costs? Are you, like me, burning precious fuel?

Yesterday I began a deliberate practice of assessing my need for speed. In the last 24 hours, I have had more productive conversations and more presence. I’ve enjoyed small rewards from a slower pace, and I’m sure breathing more freely. (Oh, and I’ve still gotten a ton done).

Andrea and Whisper —Cambria, CA 2017

It’s a bit bittersweet that I didn’t embrace this lesson a week ago, while the ocean breezes blew. But I can wait for another vacation, or I can consciously embrace a variable speed commensurate with what’s required. It sounds inviting – I’ll let you know how it goes.

[Rushed originally written July 17, 2014]

Dial Back to Making a Difference

 

by Andrea Chilcote

My colleague, author Randy Hain, suggested I do an exercise. He told me to write my clients’ names on a piece of paper (I added close friends), and circle them. Then, I was to write what each one cares most about next to their circled name. Randy predicted that I would see themes.

Did I ever.

Almost without exception, everyone I listed wants to make a difference in the lives of others. How they do it varies greatly. I work with leaders who, regardless their actual job, come to work each day because they’re making a difference in the lives of those they lead. Many, including those in senior executive positions, care most about the impact they are making on the lives of their children, members of their community or even the end-user of the product or service their organization produces. One, a CEO of a thriving non-profit, says that while she’s passionate about the work of her own organization, she does what she does every day to positively affect the non-profit sector overall, because of the enormous impact it has on the lives of those in her community.

There’s a reason why this commonality exists. Making a difference is a fundamental human drive.

Recently I learned of the death of a family friend. He was the owner of an independent grocery store in the small city  in which I grew up. His obituary said the city would have been a  different place without his compassion and the help he offered to his fellow citizens. He offered credit before it was the norm, and he helped many start small businesses. This man knew his purpose, and it was very different on the surface (selling bread and green beans) than in its depth (improving lives). He made a difference, though I’m not sure he would have known he was doing so at any given time. He just followed his heart.

And that is the point of my post today.

As you go about your full lives, it is easy to lose touch with your sense of purpose. It is easy to forget the impact of a small gesture, brief glance or word of encouragement. But even as you lose touch, the energy of it lives on. Every single positive thought or action affords many reactions. In this very moment, as you read this post, you are making a difference. Your – our – power and influence is humbling.

Let the awareness of your impact fuel your future actions. We all need one another.

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A Worthwhile Journey – What Is My Life Trying to Teach Me?

Andrea Chilcote

Spiral stairway in the Alabama State Capitol. —Lissoy at En.Wikipedia Commons

by Andrea Chilcote

Many times I’ve shared Richard Bach‘s quote, “You teach best what you need to learn.” And while it’s been my experience – and a good one at that – there’s a little part of me that feels like an imposter. The reason? Because even though I’ve “learned” it, I’m still learning and probably will be for life.

Here’s a mundane example: Organizational skills don’t come naturally to me. So when, early in my career, I learned basic time management tools and tricks that made life and work much easier, I was excited to begin teaching these same skills. Make no mistake, I struggle to maintain the basic practices on a daily basis. Yet if the need arises, I can still help others implement those techniques.

Where is the fine line between having mastered something to the degree that one is qualified to teach it, and the humility to admit that personal growth is ongoing and never done? Therein lies the integrity of the matter.

In his article, “Am I Done With My Personal Work?” Raphael Cushnir tells a story of working with his teacher on an old feeling that had resurfaced. He writes, poignantly:

“None of this was new. It was a well-worn point of my personal journey, revisited anew at a deeper rung of my life spiral. It would have been easy to throw up my hands and walk away, to cry out, ‘This?! Again?! I thought I was done with it years ago!’ It would have been just as easy to see this recurrence as proof that I’m back where I started, no different or better off than when I first began to address my issues consciously.”

A number of my clients are struggling with something I have been working on most of my life. We’ll call it trying to “boil the ocean.” They are compelled to take on that which is difficult, to commit to more than is humanly possible, and they shun help even when it’s available before their very eyes.

I know a lot about this way of being. And I’ve transformed it in my own life, though it still surfaces, only as Cushnir says, “at a deeper rung of my life spiral.”

Over the years, I’ve learned I have physical, mental and emotional limits. I’ve learned that a “hair’s on fire,” stressed-out demeanor is unattractive and does little to foster confidence. And, I’ve grown comfortable asking for and accepting help in many areas of life. I’m qualified to help these people in part because I have true empathy for where they are now, and I’ve walked a path of change that’s before them, should they choose it. And I’m still learning right alongside them.

One of my teachers, Judy Goodman, says you can’t give people what you don’t have and you can’t take people where you haven’t been. And, she asks her students to answer this question: “What is my life trying to teach me?” – most certainly implying that the learning journey is life-long.

Almost Labor Day

Aside

IMG_6999

Cool
Rocks
connected to earth
Wet

Feeling
Air – Air! – Breathe
peace
slow
Warm Sun

Beauty.
Connection.

My People
My Place
My Pack

Peace, pace
Kindness.
Satisfaction.

Inspired

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's HopeThink about something you do that inspires you, something for which you feel such passion that you never tire of it. Time seems to pass without notice.

Does that inspirational activity come to mind easily? Is it what you’re doing right now (or at least right before you began reading this post?) Is it your work? Your hobby? Your longing?

I’ve been thinking about inspiration a lot in the past few days, as I’ve prepared for an overdue vacation. I definitely am inspired by my work – oh, I don’t mean to imply every day is bliss, but the work itself is something I pursue with passion. And I can tell when I need a break, because I begin to get impatient and cynical, and the feelings start showing up, ever so slightly, in my day-to-day communication.

Writing is part of my work, a part I love. And one of the symptoms that appears when I need a break is a lack of inspiration for writing. So odd – that which usually energizes me becomes a drain. It’s not that I don’t want to write. It’s more that the things I hold precious get lost in the sea of demands and to-do’s.

Just this week I saw a LinkedIn post entitled “What if you’re not passionate about anything?” I rolled my eyes and read no further. But seriously, I thought a lot about it. “How can that be?” I felt a sense of compassion for whoever wrote the statement, and wondered if lack of passion was an indication something else was at play.

One meaning of the word “inspire” is inhale, or breathe in. How interesting that taking a breath, literally or metaphorically in the form of a vacation, serves to engage. Regardless of the sense of mission or passion felt, we simply cannot give of ourselves without taking in. I think it’s a rule of our humanness.

So back to my earlier question, does the source of your inspiration come to mind easily? Or do you need a breath (or several) to gather the mojo or light the fire? I’ll be rekindling mine by the sea. Perhaps I’ll see you there.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

The Difference Dilemma

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's HopeWe all know the value of different perspectives and different styles, whether we’re seeking counsel from a close friend or are in need of fresh approaches to problem-solving.

You’ve probably experienced the difficulty that different styles, preferences or personalities can cause, even in the most solid of relationships.

One of my trusted and valued colleagues has a very different thinking and communication style than mine. And, our differences are what I value most about her. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) do the detailed, precise and consistent work she does. And my guess is that she wouldn’t want to live in my world of ambiguity and constant change. The quality that comes from our collaboration depends upon both of our unique strengths. Sounds like paradise, right?

The trouble with stylistic differences is that we all not only have distinct modes of behavior, but we also have unique and often unconscious needs for how others behave in relation to us. When these needs go unmet, or we experience inputs counter to our needs, we risk a phenomenon called “stress behavior.”

I wrote about stress behavior in my post last year, when my “buttons” were being pushed by changes imposed on me. (I love change, but I’ll initiate it myself, thank you very much). This week, my buttons got triggered by a different need, one that followed my inability to respond appropriately to the colleague mentioned here. It was the perfect recipe for an ongoing downward spiral, something that, according to the Urban Dictionary, starts out bad and just gets worse and worse.

My colleague, whom I’ll call Julia, was experiencing a frustrating situation, one that had been lingering too long. She needed my help. My natural reflex is to approach issues in a pragmatic, objective manner. When faced with a problem, I have a bias for action – action to solve the problem. Many people – some of you as well as Julia – have a need to be heard and understood before accepting help. If you’re more like me and that sounds foreign to you, just consider someone in your own life who has that need. Chances are, you’ve offered well meaning (and sound) advice, and yet have found that the other person only seemed to escalate her feelings. To you, perhaps, she seemed unable to detach from the problem long enough to find a logical solution.

In our situation, my unwillingness to acknowledge Julia’s reality only caused the situation to worsen. My stress behavior ignited her stress behavior, and very quickly we were speaking different languages. Hers was to convey detailed accounts of the problem (which I actually needed to understand) and mine was to blow through the details in an effort to make forward progress.

Fortunately, our mutual respect prevailed that day and we got back in sync quickly. But the lesson was loud and clear. The only path to effective collaboration of any kind is awareness and acknowledgment of one another’s needs. Those seemingly subtle needs that arise from personality or style have a loud voice under stress.

You don’t have to be an expert in human behavior to put this lesson into practice. You only have to be willing to stop, observe and respond. When you find yourself at an impasse, there’s a simple way to break the logjam. Listen … acknowledge … align. Then, state what you need. Don’t be surprised when you get it.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!