Articles related to leadership, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

The Imperfect Perfectionist

If you’re anything like me, you like things done right, on time and under budget. I can still hear my dearly departed father-in-law saying “well, ok, Ms. Engineer” as I attempted to get Thanksgiving dinner in perfect order. Operating in excellence is something to be proud of and something that’s needed in our workplaces, families, and communities. But as I grew as a servant leader and as a mom, I came to appreciate the oxymoron of being an imperfect perfectionist. I came to evangelize the notion of wanting it done right, while realizing that it won’t always happen.

To help myself and those I’ve encouraged deal with this dichotomy, I use 3 simple life principles:

  1. Give yourself some grace – whether you are a petrophysicist or a rocket scientist (I know both), chances are you’re going to make a mistake, and when you do, be prepared to cut yourself some slack. It’s great to be a driven, high-achiever, that’s how we put a man on the moon! But don’t forget that you are still a fallible human…just say “my bad”! Take a note of what you did wrong and turn it into a teachable moment for yourself. You’ll be less disappointed in yourself if you capture the lesson that came out of it.
  2. Give others grace  – chances are if you struggle with #1, you blow it at this one. People who don’t give themselves grace find it really hard to extend it to others. The next time you’re about to blow a gasket with your son or your team member, remember the last mistake you made. Handle them the way you SHOULD have handled yourself. Grow in humility, grow in grace.
  3. Praise progress – In your pursuit of perfection, pause periodically to praise progress (now say that again!). When you recognize how much you (or someone in your charge) has grown, you’ll be able to focus on the flowers, and not the weeds! Oh, how sweet it is!

So if you’re a recovering perfectionist like me, celebrate how far you’ve come. Revel in the reality of having a critical eye, but a compassionate spirit. But, if you’re just admitting you have a problem, give the pointers above a try and see if the next misstep you encounter takes you out of orbit or just gets you off the ground. Measure and reward!

Which Part Are You? DISC Styles Simplified

We know that we are all members of the same body, and each part has a role to play. But do you know your role? And do you truly value it? Do those around you know it and value it? There are lots of different ways we can categorize ourselves (ethnicity, gender, personality, gifts, talents), but one of the most useful is our behavior style.
Our behavior style is relevant in any situation: family, work, and volunteer/servant leadership. So let’s take a quick look at the four DISC behavior styles and see if you recognize your own.

Do you stick with decisions? Are you decisive and move a room to an action? Chances are you are a D-style and while some won’t appreciate your decisiveness, your ability to review information and make an actionable decision is a benefit to your team.

Do you motivate those around you? – If you have ever been “accused” of being a cheerleader, chances are you an I-style. Your outgoing, talkative nature can inspire some but annoy others. How can the team keep playing without encouragers?

Do you remain steady, even in crisis? – Have you been known to wait patiently while people around you are in a tiff about waiting (huffing and puffing and making faces?). You could be an S-style. Your laid-back nature provides a calming force to those around you, and that’s not just needed when something is on fire, but even before the logs are stacked!

Do you think critically and enjoy facts? – Maybe you prefer to know all the significant digits in pi while others are fine to round it. You likely fall into the C-style category. Your attention to detail can be an asset to your team, but your tendency to over-think things can slow you and the team down.

This isn’t a competition and understanding how these roles work together is the key. The eye can’t say to the hand “I don’t need you”. So how do you learn your style to know which part you are? Read this article from Extended DISC for more information.

Are You Part of the Solution?

Growing up, my aunt would ask my cousins and me “Are you part of the problem, or are you part of the solution?” Have you ever been asked this question? Even as a child, I knew that if the answer to this wasn’t “SOLUTION”, then I was in trouble. We all knew what was next: the statement of the problem and how WE could solve it. This method of questioning was a long-standing family secret (and my aunt will tell you that she got it from my mother). And if I needed help with the solution, that was often followed with “Look it up”.

I didn’t realize it then, but this self-leadership tactic became a model for how I would lead and develop my own children and those on my team. While this is a parenting tip, it applies to people form 6 to 66. As leaders, we reap 3 key benefits from utilizing this strategy:

  1. It creates independent thinkers – Ask yourself, “Do I want a team of people who do what I tell them to, or a team that knows what to do?” Of course the answer is the latter, but that only comes when people are allowed the room to think independently. When you’re a leader, it’s not beneficial that you point out the problem, but that you encourage your team to frame the problem, and thereby develop a solution. That is, unless you enjoy being the smartest one in the room, encourage critical thinking.
  2. They will have much more buy-in – You don’t have to sell someone on an idea they came up with. Your team will have more buy-in to a solution they created, so they’ll put it into practice without “force”. Don’t make the mistake of thinking rebellion ends with the “terrible two’s” or teens; adults on your team want to create their own plan…and you can just make sure they don’t set anything on fire.
  3. They will feel empowered – Empowerment is the antidote to defiance.And empowered team (and family) members contribute more and with a positive attitude. Try going through massive change with unempowered people…it’s no fun!
I love having people on my team who are independent, buy into solutions THEY create, and feel empowered. Now I feel like there are more benefits, though, so why don’t you ask yourself “the question”, and see if you come up with some added benefits. If you do, post them here.

When to Communicate from the Heart

We’ve learned that effective communication should come from the heart, and I wholeheartedly believe that (no pun intended). When trying to motivate, inspire or even just relay a simple message, speaking with compassion is usually the best way to go. I still remember how profound it was when I heard a conference speaker say that our EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) is just as important as our IQ (Intelligence Quotient), and some thought leaders say it’s even more important.  It wasn’t a new idea, but it was new to me, and a refreshing reminder that I wasn’t alone in my quest to bring compassionate leadership into the workplace. But I’ll admit, it took some more digging to understand that it’s more than just being a “heart talker”. After years of applying this with my clients (and even at home), I have found that there are times when communicating from the heart is mission critical, and times when it should be avoided.

Here are 5 examples of when to Communicate from the Heart:

  1. There is already emotional noise on the line. If the person you are communicating with is noticeably emotional, consider matching (not countering) their emotion. Once the feelings in the room have subsided, you can proceed with the topic. While you may not be able to (or want to) validate their feelings, responding with empathy will allow them to collect themselves without being forced into premature acceptance. Statements like “I understand where you’re coming from” go a long way in working together.
  2. What you need to convey may be difficult to hear. Mary Poppins said it best (or should I say sang it best) “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Speaking with warmth and compassion can help a team member receive some feedback that might not otherwise be heard. And the harder the message, the softer you want the heart that is delivering it. Yelling “You’re Fired” is good for TV ratings, but not so good for morale. Letting someone down easy is as much an art as it is a skill, and it takes practice. Delivery the news to yourself to prepare for the emotions the news may elicit.
  3. The problem is not clearly defined. Have you ever noticed that when people are trying to figure out WHAT caused a problem, they often skip to WHO caused the problem? This type of fact-finding-mission can get ugly quickly if those involved start off pointing fingers. If the analysis turns into a “witch hunt”, take a step back and interject some compassion and objectivity. Putting down the torch will not only calm the waters, it will help you and your team find a solution faster as cooler heads prevail.
  4.  Relationship AND results matter. It is an unfortunate reality that sometimes to get results, you may have to drive, scold, or correct people on your team. But this does not have to come at the cost of the relationship. When communicating that someone has done something you are in disagreement with, speaking from your heart can help preserve the relationship; using it is a teachable moment for everyone’s sake. Remind the person of things they have done well to reinforce the message that they matter, but don’t water down the problem so you can find an amicable solution.
  5.  Having casual conversation to set the tone. You don’t need to wait until you are engaged in “Crucial Conversations” to speak from your heart. In order to connect to those around you, find opportunities to have casual conversations that reveal and announce your humanity. Otherwise, speaking with compassion will be an indicator that something is wrong and will backfire on you. Being authentic doesn’t mean you have to bare your soul, but you should share your heart with those around you.
However,

if your heart is full of frustration, anger, or pain, you’ll want to revert to a matter-of-fact approach. Clouding a discussion with negative emotions is even more harmful than not interjecting positive ones into a neutral conversation. Be prepared to delay a conversation so your emotions won’t hijack it.

And in every case, check your heart BEFORE you speak from it. It is the spring from which all words flow! And as with all sound leadership advice, use this at home, too!

Do a new thing! 3 Questions for making lasting change

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Ahh, the new year. For my family and me, New Year’s Day is a time to enjoy family and black-eyed peas. It marks the end of the holidays and all the celebratory eating that seems to come with it, and it marks the beginning of new challenges. Over the Christmas/Winter break, I tend to rest, read, binge watch, and spend time with extended family. (there’s nothing like a game of Taboo to get the blood flowing!) Then, I end the week with reflection, I clean out my closets and drop off donations. This physically and emotionally makes room for new things. Then we return to work to catch up on what was missed during the holiday all the while thinking of what changes you’re going to make.

In preparation for all this “newness”, allow me to share some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  1. Why am I making changes? Are you making a change because it’s necessary (for a defined benefit), or because you’re bored with what you have? Sometimes people make change for the sake of changing, and find that they didn’t really need to move that cheese after all. Figuring out the real motivation for change will help you stick with it, or allow you to put your efforts elsewhere.
  2. What do I need to change? To satisfy your “why”, you’ll want to come up with a clear “what”. This will also require some soul searching. Do you need a new car or just a new coat of paint? Maybe you just need to tweak something instead of inventing a whole new wheel. Consider doing an old thing a new way. Sometimes changing a running route can motivate you to run more consistently.
  3. How will you create (or apply) the change? It’s easy to say “I’ll start running” or “I’ll read more”, but how will you actually achieve it? The key is to set SMART goals – Specific – Measurable – Attainable – Realistic – Time-Bound. The only difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline and a plan. For example, “I’ll run 3 miles per week” or “I’ll read 2 business books per month”. These can be measured, and that is a key element to success.

 

Need help setting and sticking with your goals? Coaching helps you move forward and stay the course. How do I know? I got one myself! I’m looking forward to great things this year, and I pray that for you as well.

What Compassionate Leaders Know About the Holiday Season

wreathThe end of the year is upon us, temperatures have dropped, stores are filling up and so are our schedules. People are focused on closing out projects, wrapping up obligations and meeting the added demands of holiday stress. To maximize the potential of the people in our charge, compassionate leaders need to consider a few points while navigating their teams through this season:

Make room for extra Life
I always tell my project management students and clients to “make room for life” in their project schedules. Well, no time is this more true than during the Holidays. Suddenly your expert has had to run to the airport to pick up his mom,
or his daughter has a program at school. Schedules change, children have programs, relatives arrive, and personal schedules really pick up, so make room for the extra responsibilities. With Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s all occupying the same season, it’s no wonder people get partied out. So, instead of dreading the Holiday season schedule, plan for it.

Keep the light on.
This time of year marks a time of jubilant celebration for many, but not everyone on your team is rejoicing right now. On the contrary, this may be a very dark time for members of your team who have lost loved ones. The holiday season can be a painful reminder of loss and create a roller coaster of
emotions. So how can you help? Chances are you can’t (unless you are a trained therapist), and this leaves people feeling helpless and unsure of what to say or do. But you can be sensitive to not further the hurt, and provide the compassion their hurting heart needs. Privately acknowledging how your team member might feel is an important step in removing the isolation that can come and will help shine light in the dark time.

People have a different “Reason for the Season”
As a Christian, I believe that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, and you may, too. But, chances are not everyone on your team believes this. Compassionate leaders accept that people have
different belief systems, and they should all be able to express them. That’s what makes diversity so wonderful. Since US-based companies have Christmas off as a holiday, it’s not uncommon to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, after all, everyone will likely be able to enjoy the holiday, however they choose to spend that day. Have an internationally diverse team? Consider a Traditions around the World theme for your holiday celebration.

So go ahead, drink a gallon of egg nog, eat a pound of cookies, and spend way too much. However you celebrate the season, consider the ideas above to help you do so while considering the feelings of those you lead to excellence.

Welcome

Welcome to The Ms. Engineer Way website and blog! Whether you have heard me speak, read one of my books, or attended one of my workshops, you will find ways here to stay connected and keep growing. I am a multi-faceted person, and my blog reflects that. I am passionate about helping people live (and work) with passion, purpose, and perseverance. And since most people spend the majority of their waking hours at work, I like to start there! If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

All that palll_picssion stuff sounds great in a perfect world. But we live in a broken world, full of broken people. So while I’m helping you create that dream work place, I want to help you move past some things that may be holding you back. What do I know about pushing past hurt and brokenness? Read Love is a Catalyst to find out. I pray that it blesses you, and that the strength God blessed me with can be of some service to you. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I speak, that’s why I write. That’s why I love!

Whether you stopped by to find insights and strategies for healing, leading through change, or family matters, you can use the navigation on the side to find what you’re looking for.