Is that a fire hydrant or a really odd garden gnome?

German garden gnome
German garden gnome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After staring at my computer screen for hours, I decided to go for a walk at lunch as a way to recharge.  There is a secluded nature park within a short walk that can be reached by passing through the adjacent residential area. It’s not particularly impressive, but it at least gives me a destination to go to when I need some fresh air.

It had been a partially cloudy day which had allowed me to walk at a rather brisk pace without worrying that I would stink up my office upon my return. At least it had been at the beginning of my walk. As I began the final stretch, the clouds parted and the sun beat down upon the payment. We’ve had an unusually wet summer this year and the ground was full of pent up moisture. Within an instant the humidity skyrocketed and I found myself wishing that I had gills.

Luckily trees with low hanging limbs draped the sidewalk ahead and I eagerly darted under their cover. I stood there for a moment to enjoy the last bit of shadow as the rest of my route was in full sun. To my left stood a fire hydrant.

Its paint was faded and it had a layer of mold and bird droppings that helped to blend it into the surrounding landscape. It certainly did not command a high degree of visibility from the street. There have been ceramic garden gnomes which have caught my eye quicker. I found myself wondering how often it was maintained. I wondered what would happen if there was a nearby fire. Would the firefighters even know it was there? I imagined the damage that could be avoided if only someone would do a better job of trimming those trees or applying a new coat of paint to that hydrant.

Most fires don’t put themselves out before they have reduced everything around them to cinders. It doesn’t matter if the fire is a physical one or the more metaphoric variety. However it isn’t enough to provide the tools to combat them, you have to make sure everyone knows they are there, and then remind them over and over again.

At my work, I am the documentation queen. I’ve written several hundred pages of memos, policies, and procedures. I placed these documents on the company network for all employees to share. I believed I had given the entire company a great reference tool. However it seemed that the moment someone encountered some situation they weren’t entirely sure of they would either panic or do nothing.  Senior management would get frustrated. Why are we repeating the same mistakes? Customers would get frustrated. Why were we making their lives so difficult? I grew frustrated. What was the point of all those hours spent refining those policies or putting them to paper if no one was going to read them?

Book promoters will tell you often that you can write the greatest story ever, but no one will read it if they don’t know it exists. This saying is true for so many things beyond the publishing world. It wasn’t that my co-workers were lazy. They just hadn’t needed to use the reference guide in a long time. They hadn’t been involved in its creation and had no reason to remember the contents of every single page.  I’ve since learned that the average adult has to hear something more than six times before it embeds itself into active memory. Six times! I couldn’t fault my colleagues for not retaining information I had only mentioned once or twice. My co-workers simply didn’t know what they didn’t know.

So now unless I want to have the written equivalent of a garden gnome I must trim back those trees, apply a new coat of paint, and repeat, repeat, repeat, or in marketing terms, promote, promote, promote.

If you are irreplaceable why try to replace someone else?

My parents divorced early in my childhood and my mom was lucky enough to meet and marry my stepdad a few years later. One afternoon, shortly afterwards, my mom pulled me aside. She wanted me to know that my stepdad was not trying to replace my father, but that we were all going to have to make some adjustments.

Bored… (Photo credit: Thomas Leuthard)

Now I do not recall intentionally acting out, or purposefully saying hurtful things to my new stepdad before this talk, but I assume since she went to all the trouble of speaking to me individually rather than at the same time as my sisters, I must have done something. I do remember thinking that my mom’s decision to marry this person felt rather sudden to me. Only as I matured did I realize that she wouldn’t have introduced us to him until their relationship was rather serious, which would imply that their courtship was longer than it seemed to a young child.

Jumping forward, I have been promoted of sorts at my day job, and part of my new assignment is to take over the management of an established team. Unlike my prior promotion, I didn’t ask for this one, and this promotion came at the expense of a colleague. A colleague who is well liked throughout the organization, but one whose talents, our superiors thought, would better serve the company in a role that didn’t allow for the day-to-day management of people.

The news broke that I would be stepping in to fill this newly vacated role and I had the opportunity to sit front and center as his staff reacted. And react they did.

For over half of the team, I was an unknown. They had seen me in the halls, but we had not had much interaction beyond a brief hello. Additionally they had liked their existing team. They had known their place in the organization. Now the earth was shifting out from under their feet. It didn’t matter that I had known this was in the works for the past few days. It didn’t matter that I have years of experience with my company or an established track record with my own direct reports. To them, it was a shocking decision and I represented a threat to their security.

unwelcome (Photo credit: nevermindtheend)

Therefore I wasn’t entirely surprised when I didn’t exactly receive a glowing welcome. One of my new reports very vocally stated that my predecessor was the best manager he had ever had in his nearly 50 years of professional experience while looking directly at me. While I don’t normally like to elaborate on my age, lets just say that he has more working experience than I have experience living. I could have easily taken the statement personally – a hostile, judgmental attack against ability based on my age.

The next few days aren’t going to be easy.

I had to take a quiet breath and eliminate my emotional response. I had to remember that this meeting wasn’t about me. My predecessor was also in the room and my new direct report was trying to issue one final compliment to his former boss. He wasn’t trying to disrespect me, he was trying to show his respect for my colleague. It also gave me a great opening for a follow-up conversation.

I usually have a healthy ego. As such, I believe I have a unique mix of qualities. Sure, my employer might be able to move on without me, but I like to think that they would not be able to find my clone out there with my exact mix of skills, experience, and personality. If I am irreplaceable, why in the world would I think that I could replace someone else exactly and trying would not benefit anyone. I was chosen for this new assignment for a reason.

Just like my mom had done  with me so many years ago, I realized I was going to have to pull him aside for a heart to heart after our initial meeting. I asked him, what made his predecessor such a great manager? I was up front with him. I told him that I would not pretend that I was going to try to do things the same way, but I would do what I could to accommodate his needs as long as I knew what those needs were. We wound up having a pretty decent chat.

I hope that as a result he’ll learn to recognize that I am not trying to replace the boss he has placed on a pedestal.  We are both now in the situation of making the best of what we’ve been given. After my talk with my mom about my new stepdad, I consciously tried to make more of an effort. I hope it was noticed. There was never a follow-up discussion which makes me think it was.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that this situation might also work out over time as well.

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Some times a little change is good for you

Tooth fairy trinket
Tooth fairy trinket (Photo credit: JanetR3)

My eldest son recently lost his very first baby tooth. The tooth fairy had luckily been anticipating a visit to our house in theory, but he didn’t give her a ton of notice when it came time for the actual event. The tooth was loose and gone within the same day. My son nearly broke the sound barrier getting ready for bed that evening eager to see whether or not the tooth fairy would come.

The following day, he reached under his pillow and pulled out a shiny quarter. He gave us all a great big gap toothed smile and immediately placed the coin in his bank. He then proceeded to call my attention to the gap repeatedly and made sure that all his friends at day care were equally informed. By his estimation there could be no more solid proof that he truly was a big kid now.

I informed my extended family and co-workers about this new development only to learn that the tooth fairy had gotten off incredibly cheap at our house. Apparently inflation affects more than just the cost of a gallon of milk. In case you are curious, I’ve since learned that the going rate for a child’s tooth is actually a dollar or more on average. Five dollars were commonly cited as the going rate for a first tooth or larger tooth such as a molar.

My son was excited to receive his quarter. He’d never asked the tooth fairy up front how much she thought his tooth would be worth and was thrilled to receive his quarter. All he had expected was a coin and a coin is what he received. But I was worried.

Tooth Fairy (film)
Tooth Fairy (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When my son is excited about something, he likes to tell everyone who will listen all about it. There was a very real risk that he would talk to an older child at the playground about the receipt of his quarter and learn that the other child received more. If that happened, would his joy suddenly be turned into shame? Would he wonder to himself things like why didn’t he receive more? Why wasn’t the tooth fairy just as generous with him? Was there something wrong with his teeth? Was there something wrong with him?

We as a society frequently confuse our sense of self-worth with our financial worth. However if you were to ask most business owners, they would tell you that money is actually one of the worst ways to incentivize your staff.  Monetary bonuses tend to provide little positive long-term impact on employee behavior and actually typically result in the exact opposite of their intent.

People become increasingly dissatisfied doing their regular work and company culture can take on a climate of unhealthy internal competition. Studies have shown that companies which pay a fair wage and offer other benefits designed around the values of the employees are more productive than companies which offer bare bones salaries with astronomical bonus potential.

3D Employee Empowerment
3D Employee Empowerment (Photo credit:

I have begun reading a number of studies on a concept called the prosocial bonus. The concept is somewhat simple. Rather than cut a check to an employee in reward for the job they should be doing anyway, the employee gets to redirect where the bonus should be applied provided it goes to somewhere other than themselves.  The important thing is that the employee must be in the driver’s seat. An employee might request that money be spent on a cause of their choice or on their teammates. They get to feel empowered.

Companies who have experimented with the concept reported that employees had a greater sense of self-worth even though there wasn’t an adjustment to their financial worth. This in turn created a culture of increased morale and teamwork.

I am intrigued by this concept, but the system only works if a person is first paid fair wages. Luckily for us, upon examination of the quarter we found it still had residual fairy dust. My five and a half-year old only had to behave himself all day, make a wish while holding the quarter near his tooth gap, and place it in a cup of water for the magic of the first lost tooth to work. The quarter grew overnight into a silver dollar. He may have just gotten his first lesson in investment as he had to move his money into a different vessel and do a little extra homework for it to grow.

Thankfully we managed to avoid an awkward discussion about disparity. While a little change might do him some good, at this point in his life, I am sure he would tell me a lot of change would do him even better.

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Adventures in goal setting

Hong Kong at nightBefore I had children, my work sent me to Hong Kong for a period of eight weeks. During this time I was housed in hotel room only a few train stops from the office. I couldn’t speak the language. I couldn’t even read it. My days were my friends and family’s nights back home and vice versa. I was surrounded by millions of people, and yet was alone.

I arrived in early summer, and it rained almost daily over the first several weeks. My hotel only offered three English-speaking television channels. I was barely over my jet lag and already I could tell that this was going to be a long trip.

Then things began to happen. First my younger sister, who was working second shift at the time, discovered that she and I could fit in a virtual game of cribbage before I went to sleep and before she went into the office. We would set up a private table and chat about nothing while pegs moved across the screen. She usually won, but then again she usually wins when we play in real life. That’s always been her game. To me it was like we were living back at home with our parents and every night was game night. The routine combined with regular Skype calls to the hubby helped keep my spirits up.

Then I received an email from my grandfather and responded back. He marveled that his message could reach the other side of the world within minutes of sending. He wanted to know all sorts of mundane details about life in the eastern hemisphere. He would ask questions like, how much is a gallon of gas?

I didn’t drive. I only took the subway or the bus and had no reason to know the answer to his question, but it was my grandpa asking. He didn’t really expect an instantaneous answer. I could have searched the internet for a quick reply, but I had more than a little time to myself and decided to explore and find out the answer first hand.

Hong Kong
The urban jungle and the jungle jungle

It turns out that gas stations are not exactly easy to find in a land dominated by effective public transit. I was only able to find one through determination and willingness to get a slightly lost. Once located, the sign advertised the price in terms of Hong Kong dollars per liter instead of dollars per gallon. Ah math… The entire exercise reminded me of the word problems we had to solve in school.

I proudly worked out the conversions and hit the reply button. Within a day Grandpa sent me follow-up questions. I felt that I had somehow entered the world’s widest spanning scavenger hunt.

I managed to get my work done throughout my stay, but in addition, I must have crossed the length of the island on foot at least twice. I was able to see temples and markets. I watched as dragon boats raced across the water. I biked along the shore of the new territories. I enjoyed the Hong Kongese take on barbecue at the home of one of my local colleagues. I even managed to win a few games of cribbage.

Lion Statue in Hong Kong

The internet has made the world smaller.  It allowed me to maintain connections on the other side of the planet, and may have even strengthened those connections. But at the same time, my time over there would have been sorely limited had I remained isolated in my hotel room.

My grandfather taught me a lot in those few weeks about effective goal setting, whether the goal be for personal or professional development.

Goals should be SMART

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Specific – All I had to do was send an email with the cost of gas. Measurable – I sent the email or I didn’t. Attainable, but not necessarily easy – Goals should force a stretch or other small change in behavior, but not so large a stretch that a person becomes immediately discouraged. In order to complete my goal I had to leave my hotel.  Relevant – The goal’s completion should be worthwhile. It should be valued by person who created it and by the person doing the work. Learning how to operate a computer was a major accomplishment for my grandfather. If he wanted to know the cost of gas, well then, I was going to find it out for him.  Time-Bound – I couldn’t leave him waiting by his machine for an unanswered email. I had to find out the answer before I departed.

Grandpa, whether you find this on your own or mom reads it to you, thanks again for the adventure.

Staying positive is tough, but I’ve always liked a challenge

English: Think positive
English: Think positive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband and I visited several parts of Australia for our honeymoon. While there we were entertained to learn that there was an entire news program dedicated to Happy News. The other programs were following the pattern of increasing the scare factor in order to generate ratings, but this program had decided that they were going to focus on the inspirational and feel good pieces.

Watching the program was like eating a scoop of sorbet after a meal, a delicious palette cleanser. I wish I could say we watched more of it so that they might have gained a few ratings, but we were on vacation and I didn’t want to stay in front of a television all day. I do hope the program stayed true to its principles and is still on the air.

Several years ago, I watched Michael Moore’s film, Bowling for Columbine which takes a look at school shooting and explores the factors that may or may not have allowed that terrible event to occur. Whether or not you agree with his politics, he does bring up an interesting comparison between the nightly news in the US and the nightly news in Canada. In his film, the US program made much higher use of flashy graphics and scary headlines, or endangering a reporter without need, as means of compelling a viewer to tune in than its Canadian counterpart.

Breaking News
Breaking News (Photo credit: morner)

When I decided to venture into the world of blogging, I did so with trepidation. I had read the comments section on sites like Yahoo and You Tube. People can be so cruel, especially when they don’t have to use their real name. I truly wish I could say that I was still shocked by what people are willing to put in writing.

I’ve attended leadership and management classes as well as read several books on the subject. Time and time again, I have been told about the importance of addressing negative behavior immediately before it has a chance to fester within the team. Because unchecked, that’s exactly what it will do. The casual cruel comment tends to make a person defensive, tempting them to lash out in retaliation or worse, against an innocent bystander.

As leaders, we have to confront these issues head on. Nip it in the bud. We cannot afford to be afraid of confrontation. Courage, professionalism, and respectability can be equally contagious.

It takes one positive thought to change your l...
It takes one positive thought to change your life, just one positive thought. So why spend your time thinking negatively? (Photo credit: deeplifequotes)

When I began blogging, I decided early on that I wanted to maintain a professional and mostly positive tone.  The best way to inspire others is to lead by example. I found a free site called which analyzes everything I post on my blog, on Twitter, or Facebook and assigns it into a category such as positive, negative, or neutral.

Occasionally I get a red square next to one of my posts. I do enjoy satire and dry humor. My attempts to be funny typically get flagged as negative, but overall I am proud to say that I have been in the green more often than not.




I encourage you to check out your own stats some time using this tool, then click on the analytics tab. Next ask yourself are you happy with your results?


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