Every Chameleon Knows Its Color: Being Adaptable AND Authentic

When I was in college, I worked at a pet store in the mall, and I fell in love with a cute little chameleon. I wore my hair in a bun on top of my head at the time, and I would place him on my bun and he’d hold on while I walked around the store greeting customers (talk about your conversation starter).  I got a kick out of placing him near my brown apron and watching him change colors…sometimes. When he wasn’t clinging to my bun or my apron, I would observe him in his terrarium.  As I watched little “Charma Chameleon”, I wanted to know more about those fascinating creatures. As someone who moved around a lot as child and adapted to repeated change, I could relate to my tiny friend. And as I reflect, I see that we have some important characteristics in common. We both knew:

Being adaptable doesn’t mean not knowing who you are.  Chameleons change color only as needed. If they are on a leaf, they are green if they need to be green, and if they are on a branch, they are brown if they need to be brown. But when it’s not near anything it needs to adapt to, it knows what color to show. The chameleon was aware of his authentic self and comfortable with who he knew himself to be.

Adapting is a conscious choice – Chameleons change their color to reflect their moods and to camouflage themselves. It is both a communication tool and a defense mechanism that allows them to survive. When our communities, organizations and world undergo change, it is those who choose to adapt to the change that thrive in it. Ultimately, a chameleon knows why he must adapt and that understanding keeps him from making arbitrary change.

As leaders, we need to be adaptable AND authentic. Like chameleons, we know who we are, we know our values, we know our “true colors”. But we also recognize the value of adapting to changes in our environment.

We Honored His Wishes But Broke Their Hearts

When my boys were young, they loved to climb up and down each other…isn’t that just like boys? If they weren’t climbing, they were balancing or just rolling on the floor. With four of them, there was no shortage of playmates, and my husband and I enjoyed countless hours of watching (and participating in) their playfulness. It created a bond that could never be broken.

On January 11, 2014, that bond was tested. After 3 battles with cancer in 3 years, Malcolm received his wings at 21 years old. But they came at a cost to their bond, they came at the cost of trust. When Malcolm received confirmation that his cancer had returned and was inoperable, we began to brace ourselves for the worst. He had made it clear after his first bout with the deadly disease that he would never agree to chemotherapy again; so that left surgery. This saved his life when the cancer returned and was just centimeters from his heart, but when it came back “with a vengeance” in the fall of 2013, there was no knife made to stop it.

So we begged him to consider chemo. He refused for months, scouring the internet insisting there must be other options, but he knew there were none. Time went on and we felt the sands of time escaping every day, but we had to honor his wishes. My husband locked hands with me and prayed out to God, asking Him to comfort us, because as he said to the Father, “He was yours before he was ours”. Those words gave us both peace as we entered the holidays full of uncertainty but filled with faith.

In a sudden change of heart, Malcolm agreed to have chemo. But it was December, and the aggressive cancer that had been detected 3 months prior had been filling his lungs. We jumped into chemo mode, making schedules and getting him fed. But his doctors were clear, the chemo would just “buy him some time”, he was now considered terminal.  He signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and we prepared ourselves to prepare ourselves…one step at a time. We could barely process the information ourselves, and Malcolm didn’t want his little brothers to know, so we had to honor his wishes.

As Christmas neared, Malcolm began to experience even more discomfort (both from the cancer and the effects of the chemo). So to our surprise and amazement, he spent Christmas with his Dad, me, and his youngest brother, Matthew (while our 2 other boys went out of town with his mom…blended, remember!). He wanted to sleep on our sofa, because he said it was the most comfortable place to lay, and after losing so much weight again, he needed the extra padding. He was too weak to leave the sofa, so we had family over for Christmas Eve and played games  while cousins and aunts took turns curling up with him. But we never said it was his last Christmas, because we didn’t know for sure, and we had to honor his wishes. Being bound to the sofa wasn’t terrible because it kept him close to the kitchen, and I cooked all day, keeping his appetite stimulated by the smell of food. He began to regain some strength, and he eagerly awaited Christmas morning because he couldn’t wait to see the look on Matthew’s face. I have to imagine he thought it would look a lot like this picture, because Malcolm was surprising him with a new PlayStation! He was so excited, he could hardly sleep! That morning, he got the bright eyed screaming “Thank You!” he was hoping for, and Matthew spent the day playing his new game. Malcolm was too weak to leave the sofa, so I went to visit family that live a few blocks away to continue the Christmas tradition we had. When I got back home, I started to clean up, but he patted the sofa next to him, signaling for me to sit next to him and snuggle under the blanket, which I did because, despite a dirty kitchen, I had to honor his wishes.

He stayed at our house for a few more days and I cooked, cleaned, snuggled and laughed with him. He left our house the day after New Year’s (after spending NYE “babysitting” his youngest brothers). He was getting weaker and even needed a walker to get around the house. He went back to his mom’s house and we spoke with him daily. When we visited him after church the following Sunday, he was emaciated and frail. My heart shattered when I saw him, but I convinced myself that he would swing back from the chemo. Two days later, he had difficulty breathing and was rushed to the hospital (his only remaining lung had collapsed and he couldn’t breathe). He was in the ICU, clearly in pulmonary distress on Tuesday, but the next day he was up and laughing with the nurses. He took a turn for the worse and we gathered the boys to say good-bye, but none of us could use those words. While there was still a chance, we had to remain positive, leaving the hospital cheering for him and hoping for a turn-around. By late Friday, it didn’t look like he would return to us, and we braced ourselves to gather again and say good-bye for real. But Saturday morning came and he breathed his last breathe before we could get to him. We weren’t ready… his brothers were caught off guard… and our hearts were broken in pieces. Instead of having a “peaceful transition”, we were all kicked in the gut as if he’d died suddenly in a car accident. Years later, I’m  still tormented by the thought of having just one more day. I still hear the words of a tiny 10-year old boy in shock shouting “but I didn’t get to say good-bye!”  Malcolm didn’t want us mourning until he was gone, and he certainly didn’t want his baby brother to know so close to Christmas. So as hard as that was to do, we had to honor his wishes.

If You Want Something Done Right…

I was guilty of finishing this sentence incorrectly; the common way: If you want something done right, do it yourself!.  But that is a sure fire way to end up overwhelmed and frustrated, surrounded by demoralized people. I grumbled it in the kitchen to my children (and my husband) and I said it to more than one colleague at work. Ouch! Thankfully, I learned not only to not say this out loud, but to not believe it in my heart. You see, even if you don’t utter these words, they will ooze out of your pores like the venom from rare toads in the Amazon. It reflects a heart condition of pride, piousness, and perfectionism. The proper way to complete this phrase is “If you want something done right, teach someone how to do it”. Now there is an impactful statement. Consider the following points as you begin to impart into those in your charge:

  1. You’ll have to repeat what you said – I was looking at the cooking utensils in my kitchen one day, and I wanted to complain about the improper placement of them. But instead I gently called for my youngest son and offered a “refresher orientation”. I would like to think that he would remember all the details I had meticulously taught him before, but then I remembered that repetition is a key principle in education…so I repeated the lesson. And, as a result,  I continued to have a helpful kitchen aid. Teachers don’t just teach on the first day of school.
  2. Not all teachers use a chalkboard – When we hear the word teach, we often think lecture and instruction. But don’t underestimate the value of modeling what and how something should be done. It took me years to realize that I was scrambling eggs wrong (to my liking) and it took watching my husband without instruction to realize that consistently perfect eggs require low heat and constant stirring…who knew?! Apparently, he did, but instead of lecturing me on the proper way to scramble eggs, he simply did it the way it should be done, and I caught on. Our actions speak volumes in the “classroom”.
  3. Consider your “student” in the lesson plan – Whether your student is your child, your spouse, or a member of your project team, you will get the best return on investment (ROI) of your time if you include them in the lesson planning. Consider their learning style: are they auditory (learn by listening), visual (learn by seeing), or tactile (learn by doing). This will make a difference in how they respond to you and should dictate your delivery…because as animal trainers say, “it’s never the animal’s fault”. Taking ownership of how the lesson is personalized will inspire your pupils to learn.

 

You can’t do it all…right! – There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything yourself. You can try, and you may even succeed in some areas. Anyone adopting this attitude is going to find themselves burning the candle at both ends. They won’t be able to keep up with the demands on their time, and their own quality will suffer. At work and at home, you may be able to do it all…but you can’t do it all right! And isn’t that the point?

Speak Up and Be Like Rudy!

When I was in the fourth grade, I was the new kid (again!), and this time it was close to the end of the year, so I wasn’t going to bother making new friends. Well, to my surprise, my parents bought me a 64 pack of Crayola Crayons! This made me an instant hit in the classroom, and one girl, Esther, always wanted to borrow my crayons. The problem was, she kept breaking them! One day, with palm sweating and heart racing,  I mustered up the courage to tell her she couldn’t use my crayons anymore. She didn’t yell, but through clinched teeth she told me she was going to beat me up after school. And she was apparently a woman of her word because she did just that…slapping me right across my face!

Scared and upset, I boarded the bus and when an older girl named Rudy got on, she asked me what was wrong. I told her what happened, and she stormed off the bus to go find my assailant (it was a city bus, so the driver was, well, a driver). Rudy told the bully in no uncertain terms that she would regret it if she ever touched me again.  Suddenly, my tears dried up and I started chanting, “Rudy! Rudy!” The rest of the bus caught on, and she humbly signaled for us to stop. To her eager onlookers, Rudy simply said “I can’t stand when people mess with my friends”. And just like that, she showed me how to use my voice for someone else. Esther was never a threat to Rudy, she didn’t speak up for her own interests, she spoke up for some else. She demonstrated what the Prophet Isiah said: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed…”

And while I was just a kid whose feelings (and cheek) were hurt, if Rudy had remained silent, I would have a very different memory of that day. Because of Rudy’s courage, I saw the power in using my position and voice for others.  As a result, the bully was neutralized, and I gained a script to use for future conflict. And, I was able to finish the school year without any more broken crayons!

Being a leader often means standing up for those who can’t. Bullying is not just a schoolyard problem, but one that permeates offices, families, and communities. Whether it’s in your workplace, family, community, or school, speak up for others and be like Rudy!

 

Houston showed me some love!

It’s one thing to call yourself “inspiring”, it’s another to be recognized by a local periodical as such. Like any “inspiror” (OK, that’s not a word), my motivation is to help people have hope in the possibilities of life. To have hope that their last challenge won’t take them out. To show them that life has seasons, and some of them carry some really ugly weather, but that with faith, hope, and love, they can weather that storm.

So I was honored to be featured in Houston’s Inspirational Stories in the VoyageHouston online magazine. On Valentine’s day, Houston showed me some love!

Click HERE to read the article.

Listen…Then Lead

One of the challenges seasoned change leaders have is entering a new environment and still being respected as a leader. This can come as a result of a re-organization, a job change, or life as usual for consultants (we’re always the new kid on the block). The first thing any new person to a team must do is LISTEN. But the new kid will hear a lot of noise, so below are the critical factors you should listen for when entering a new environment BEFORE you lead:

  1. To hear the status quo  – One thing most change leaders don’t like to hear is “we’ve always done it this way”. But that piece of intel can unlock methods and  motives behind the way things are currently operating. Don’t be so quick to dismiss this information, it can save you from re-inventing the wheel, and it will let your team know that you’ve done some homework. You can later use the information as a baseline for your strategy of where you’re going next.
  2. To understand the relationship dynamics – To lead change in an organization of any size, you need to gather your allies, and size up your challengers. Listening attentively for relational disharmony can keep you from stepping on a landmine. Also, when you pay attention to the behavior styles of the team, you’ll be better equipped to help them move their cheese.Everyone on a team has a part to play, but they may not all know their role. Listen carefully for signs of role ambiguity (people and/or team members not knowing their roles).
  3. To hear the REAL problem  – Often the people or processes you are trying to change aren’t what really need to change. When embarking on a new initiative, you have to look and listen for the real issue. This requires crafting questions that help get to the root of things. Ask “why?” multiple times (I like the rule of thumb to ask it at least 3 times). The goal is to probe and listen so you can hear past the symptoms and deal with the root cause.

THEN (and only then) can you objectively create a change strategy. This Listening Assessment is useful for implementing new business processes, or even for getting a teenager to improve their performance in Algebra. Whatever the change you’re spearheading, be sure to Listen…Then Lead!

What You Focus on Grows

I love the old adage “What you focus on grows”.  It speaks to investing our time and attention to the things that matter. And in return, you’ll get dividends. Most times, people intend to focus on the important relationships, tasks, and projects in their lives, but it can be difficult. There are so many things vying for our attention, competing for our energy and focus. This can be especially frustrating when we talk about goals. Making goals is important, but sticking to them is even more vital. Here are a few ideas you can consider as you put your goals into place for this year:

  1. Put First Things First – As Dr. Covey states in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”. Put the important things in your life (or day) at the top of your to-do list. Focus on getting those finished first, and THEN dive into something else.
  2. Drown out the noise – Distractions are all around us. Even the best laid out day can be filled with calls, emails, and other matters that take your focus away. Try methods like the Pomodoro (which has an app for your phone) to time your productive times. You intentionally focus during that interval and then take a break. This did wonders for me and kept me from chasing squirrels in my mind!
  3. Make a visual plan – I like vision boards, but they only remind you of what, and not when. OK, you’re saying “here goes the project manager” …but honestly, creating a visual timeline of tasks and goals will help you stay focused. There are tons of tools that will let you create something electronically, but what’s even better is to PRINT it out, put it somewhere visible and mentally check in with it.
  4. Setup an Accountability system – That visual plan you created is useful for keeping you accountable, but sharing its contents (milestones, etc) with someone else is the key to accountability. Whether it’s your spouse, a friend, a prayer partner or a mastermind group, sharing your goals (the what and the when) will help you remain focused on the promise you made to yourself. As you setup your goals, be sure to add some accountability to keep you focused on achieving them.

So, what do you want to grow this year? Whether it’s your health, your wealth, or your relationships, you’ll need to focus to make them grow. Because if you don’t…they won’t.

Change We CAN Control – It’s YOUR Attitude

Life always boils down to choices, and when it comes to dealing with difficulty, we really have two. As the famous poet Maya Angelou put it, “We can change our circumstances or we can change our attitude.” I am a proponent of changing circumstances, no matter how difficult they may seem. But even the most aggressive overcomer can’t change everything. So, what do we do if a situation is beyond our control and we can’t change it no matter how hard we try? That’s when we focus on changing our attitude. These three strategies will help if you need to change your attitude:

 

  1.  Choose to remain positive. John C. Maxwell said, “Remaining positive in a negative situation is not naïve, it’s leadership.” As leaders, whether we are leading ourselves personally, leading a team, or leading an entire organization, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to remain positive. A positive attitude is infectious, and that is what you want to infect the people around you with. It’s not a matter of smiling or faking through difficulty, but choosing to not grumble and complain can make a huge impact on how you endure the situation. I can’t remember the last time a bad attitude changed the outcome of a dilemma anyway.
  2. Look at the trial as a lesson. Everything that we go through has a purpose in our lives; whether it is difficulty at work, a project that failed, a relationship that failed, or even the loss of a job. Those hit us very hard and can be deeply wounding. But what they all do is that they help us grow by giving us lessons. And every time that we’re in a situation, especially things that are beyond our control, we have to ask ourselves, what is it that I can learn from this situation? Why is this happening? Why was I given the opportunity to learn in the situation? When we encounter our obstacles that way it helps us maintain a productive outlook. The most beautiful flowers are those that have had the most fertilizer!
  3. Prepare to share the lesson. Finally, and in my opinion, most importantly, you want to look beyond you. It’s one thing for you to learn a lesson. I always say, “I don’t lose, I learn.” But every time we learn we have an opportunity … There’s something else that we’re able to impart to someone else. When we share our lessons learned we grow personally, but we grow our community immensely. So, when we take those opportunities to look beyond ourselves, to find the purpose in that situation, the purpose behind that pain. Whatever trial that you’re dealing with, find a reason for that too, not just be about you because it never is just about us anyway.

 

So, remember, if you can’t change your circumstances, you can change your attitude…it’s yours. Keep this in mind as you prepare your goals for next year. Some things you can (and should) change, while some things you need a change of heart toward.

Delegation Done Right

Fountain Pen, Text, Leave, White, SpringAs a project manager, I have found delegation to be one of the most valuable tools in my toolbox, but it is one that I have seen often misused.

Why is it misused? Well, quite simply because often times people don’t understand the difference between true delegation and just telling someone to do something. Anyone can tell someone to do something, especially the “bossy” people, but can you properly delegate a task to someone? We’ll take a pen for instance, if I pass a pen to someone and say, “Here, you take this pen.”, that’s me telling them to take the pen, but I’ve not told them what to do with the pen and when I would like to see the results of what they’ve done with the pen. If I throw them the pen and say, “Here’s a pen and I would like you to write a one page letter on your life and I need that by Friday at noon.”, then that is clearly delegating.

The difference is in the detail. The amount of detail that I gave to help the person understand what it is that I’m asking them to do, but then also for myself to understand and to clarify what I need them to do so that I can remember what I’m holding them accountable to. Because the key in delegation as well, is that I’m delegating  not just the task, but the authority along with the task. Who’s going to write that letter? The person I delegated it to. Who’s going to return the letter? The person I delegated it to. So, the key is that all authority had been granted to the person who is now responsible for the task. If I come following up on a Wednesday for something I’ve asked to be done on Friday, I’m then questioning the authority that I’ve given them.

The beauty of delegation in a team environment is that it is empowering. It empowers the team around you to contribute to the greater good, to contribute to the project as a whole, but the only way that that can  effectively take place is if you have properly delegated the task with the necessary details and that those necessary details are understood by both myself, (the sender) and by the person doing the task (the receiver) because we all know what happens in communication. We’ll follow up with that later, but for right now, the whole point is how do we make sure that what we have delegated has been clearly outlined so that everyone understands not just what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. That deadline is very important and helps people remain on track and hold themselves accountable to what they’ve been asked to do.

If you’re a leading a team, I encourage you to think about how you delegate. To think about the level of detail that you’re providing and a level of detail that you’re getting back. Remember, you’re delegation should be a two-way conversation, so as you’re communicating with people on your team and delegating to them, ensure that they have responded in the affirmative to understanding what task has been delegated to them. By doing so, you will improve the performance on your team and you’ll see a return in your time investment in the people around you.

Leading the Rainbow

Can you imagine life without the rainbow? Can you imagine how sad the days would be without the flooding and be able to look forward to the beauty of the rainbow?

We look forward to that beauty not only because it is beautiful, but because God sent that as a promise to Noah. To let us know that he will never again destroy the Earth from floods. At that moment, the rainbow took a very special place in our hearts and in our lives and we saw the beauty in it. God saw all the beauty and all of the colors in the rainbow. He saw the colors in the rainbow and it’s beautiful we know to look throughout all of his creations and see the colors and the rainbow and see its Beauty. So much so, that Reverend Jesse Jackson continued the work of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior with the founding of the rainbow push coalition. Now, this coalition was formed to give awareness and help understand the gap between the people that don’t understand the beauty of the rainbow help them to see the beauty of the rainbow.

The beauty of diversity in our great United States of America!

To see the beauty of diversity in our workplaces, in our schools, and in our communities.

To see and understand that beauty and know its benefits, because it’s not enough just to be beautiful but you know that they there is a business impact for our organizations to understand the beauty of the rainbow as well.

There are three key benefits to having the beautiful rainbow in your organization:

1- Innovation

People with different ideas and backgrounds can come to the table of creativity and bring forth different ideas. There they can innovate, collaborate, and bring forth new ideas not that just benefit the organization but that benefit the world as a whole. Everything that we do works into this tight-knit community that we have called our global economy.

2- Recruiting and retention

Maslow showed us in the hierarchy of needs that people not only have physical needs but also a need for belonging. When people can walk into an organization and see people that look like them, think like them, talk like them, and have some affinity for them then they will also have a better sense of belonging. It improves recruiting and retention to be able to keep top talents into your organization.

3- Change

Be the change that you want to see in the world.

This is far more compelling than the other two. This is beyond your reach and scope of our own daily lives. We can set an amazing example by setting policies and plans within our organization to promote Diversity and Inclusion. By setting that example, it shows the employees on our team, our customers, our community, and for our Global Partners that we value everyone.

We all work together to grow a better place and that’s what we’re all here for. To leave the world better than we found it one team at a time.