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Is My Idea Brilliant or Dull?

“Is my idea brilliant or dull” isn’t a useful question most of the time.

A more useful question is:

“What problem am I trying to solve?”

When you have a clear answer to that question, you can then start the process of testing your idea to see how good it is. All you need to do is:

  • Join or create a team who are passionate about solving the problem.
  • Create minimal liberating rituals and systems to test multiple solutions quickly.
  • Convince someone to finance the idea.
  • Find evangelists to sell the idea.

The next time you have a potentially brilliant idea, a useful question could be, “How much effort and time am I willing to spend to solve this problem?”

Resetting for a New Year

Hand turns dice and changes the expression “old habits” to “new habits”.

Instead of creating new year’s resolutions, I use many of the tools that I have written about to imagine the best possible outcome for the coming year and to examine my habits to see if I need to adjust them to live my imagined story.   

The first step in creating a new story for myself is reflecting on the last year. I do this by journaling and allowing myself as much time as I need to process and record what I have learned over the previous year. 

The second step is to write a Positive Intention where I describe in past tense the most positive and successful year I could imagine. 

The final step is to identify any habit changes I want to make. For this year, I want to: 

  • Enhance is my ability to Focus and Finish.  For me, this means being fully present and attentive to whatever task I am doing.  As I imagined what this would look like if I was successful, it would mean that every person I interacted with would feel seen, I would limit my Work in Progress (WIP) to 1, and I would only do activities that couldn’t be effectively delegated to someone else. As I get better at Focusing and Finishing, both my professional and personal life will be transformed. 
  • Read something spiritual each night before I go to sleep. I will use a checklist that I leave on my nightstand to track my progress. My husband teases me that I get endorphins from checking things off a list, so this method of tracking should help me add this step to my nighttime routine. 
  • Re-establish my weekly blog. I stopped writing my blog when I took a medical leave last September and gave myself the time I needed to recover. Over the break, I thought long and hard about a process that would help me and my amazing communication team do this more effectively.  I hope it works! 

This process is based on what I have found to be effective and works for me.  

How do you reset for a new year? 

Stressed is being in the weeds. Overwhelmed is being blown. 

One of the best things about working at a university is feeling the energy and excitement of the students at the start of a new school year. Seeing all the students back on campus made me reminisce about my time in college. I remember it as such an incredible time of fun and growth, but also stress. I remember crashing at the end of each semester in utter exhaustion. The natural cadence of the semester with the breaks in between allowed a respite from stress and time to recharge. 

In some cases, we used to have a more natural ebb and flow to our work based on the academic calendar, but we have all seen the pace of change has become more constant and at time it can feel unrelenting, which can lead to burnout. 

I recently read Brene Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart where she talks about the difference between being stressed and overwhelmed. She used the example of working in a restaurant, which really resonated with me.  

“Stressed and overwhelmed remind me of two restaurant terms that my teams and I often use today: ‘in the weeds’ and ‘blown.’ Back in the day, if I walked into the kitchen and told another waiter ‘I’m in the weeds’ – the response would be, ‘What do you need?’ I might say, ‘Can you take bread to tables 2 and 4, re-tea tables 3 and 5, please?’ Being in the weeds and pulling out of the weeds happened to everyone on almost every shift. It was just part of the job, and you learned to manage it. Walking into the kitchen and saying ‘I’m blown’ – well, that’s completely different. The kitchen gets real quiet. No one asks what you need. Normally, someone runs to the hostess stand to find out what tables you’re running that shift – they don’t even assume you know at that point…When you’re blown, you can either step outside or into the cooler or go to the bathroom (and cry). Whatever you need. You’re expected to be back in ten minutes, ready to go, but for those ten minutes, there’s a complete takeover…Stressed is being in the weeds. Overwhelmed is being blown.” (Brown, 5) 

Being “in the weeds” and “blown” has happened to all of us. As leaders, and as a team, our responsibility to each other is twofold – to feel safe saying when we are in one of these states, and to be there to support our teammates when it happens, knowing they will do the same for us. 

I think it would be valuable for our individual and team health to be able to normalize this straightforward way of acknowledging that you need help. Do these resonate with you?  

Our Stories Build Connections

Diverse group of people grasping each other's wrists to form a circle

Last week, I spent two days with my peers from the provost cabinet doing strategic planning. The sessions were facilitated by Dawan Stanford whose superpower is asking great questions.  

To prepare for our team building conversations, we were each asked to consider how we might answer the following questions:  

  1. What is an experience that shaped how you think about leadership?
  2. What kind of teamwork is required to exceed our academic plan goals?
  3. What is one quick story about a time you experienced our shared values in action?
  4. What is a quick story about a time you struggled, adapted and coped with a challenge?

The team has a lot of new members and so we are all still getting to know each other. The questions were interspersed through the sessions and allowed us to get to know each other better and practice vulnerability, generous listening and storytelling. 

Telling my core stories to others reminded me of my resilience and purpose and gave me confidence. Hearing other’s stories exposed the incredible talent and focus of my peers and made me excited to work with them.  

I came away from the retreat in awe of the talent and passion at the table, energized about the incredible opportunity in front of us, and extraordinarily grateful to be part of the team. 

How do you promote connections on your teams?

What’s Your Why?

This weekend, I participated in my first Pelotonia ride which was such an amazing example of how to create a community around a shared purpose. Pelotonia is a fundraiser to raise money for cancer research and this was the fourteenth year of the event.

The event was so fun and energizing! Throughout the weekend, I was consistently struck by how much effort it took to orchestrate the event and how important each person was in making the event so meaningful. I was also impressed by the constant reminders of why Pelotonia mattered and its immense effect on the community.

There were hundreds of volunteers that did everything from checking people in to supplying food. In each packet, there was a wristband that was meant for each rider to give to a volunteer to thank them for their service.

Pelotonia riders committed not only to training to ride but also to raising money for cancer research. We formed a team called the IT Pedal Pushers, led by Jay Young, who stepped up to organize the team and coordinate training rides. The team aspect of the ride was really important to me and made the event much more enjoyable.

The event also featured donors who support their family and friends through monetary donations. Many of the riders had the names of people they were riding for, which was another reminder of why this event mattered.

Hundreds of police officers lined the bike route, and we made a point of saying thank you to every one of them because it made the ride so much safer and enjoyable to not have to contend with car traffic.

The most unexpected boost for me came from the people who took the time to cheer along the race route. Dave Renner kept telling me about Granville, Ohio and how it was going to be the highlight of the ride and he was right. The streets were lined with people cheering for the riders. I have done a lot of cycling events and never been cheered before. It was great!

The day after Pelotonia, I got to take part in Ohio State’s summer semester graduation, which absolutely reminded me why our work matters. We transform lives through education. It is so energizing to connect ourselves and our teams back to the purpose of our work. How do you do this for yourself and your team?

Creating a Culture of Caring

Last week I heard from several friends who were experiencing major losses in their lives. I was grateful that they felt comfortable sharing their struggles with me so that I could support them. At work, we may not even know what individuals are going through in their personal lives, so we need to be deliberate in crafting a supportive culture.

Two ways to create a culture of caring in the workplace include making it okay to talk about personal things and giving grace to our colleagues when they are under stress.

We have implemented a few rituals on our team to create a safe space to share stories from our personal lives. The first and foundational session of our C3 (Confidence, Competence and Credibility) Leadership training starts with each participant sharing their core stories from their life. Every Friday in our stand-up meeting, we share what we are grateful for. This allows us to talk about our families and routines outside of work.

Another practice that we recently implemented at the beginning of our weekly meeting is a “what’s on your mind?” ice breaker. During the round robin, everyone gets one minute to talk about anything they’d like while everyone else listens without questioning or commenting.

Giving grace to each other is something we openly talk about on our team. “Assume positive intent” is a mantra that we use to inspire curiosity and discourage judgement when someone doesn’t meet an expectation. Giving grace to ourselves and our peers allows us to better communicate our needs to one another. When a colleague needs space to deal with personal stressors, we spread their work among other team members to lighten the individual’s load. We even have a tradition of donating vacation to colleagues who need it to take time off to care for a sick family member or themselves.

Creating a culture of care in the workplace is extremely valuable for the well-being of your team. I encourage you to try some of the practices you read in this blog with your team, or simply remember this advice from the late Robin Williams: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

Turning Off the Zoom Mirror

It has been almost two and a half years since the start of the pandemic and the permanent shift to a more virtual world. The shift to meetings over Zoom and Microsoft Teams has increased efficiency and allowed much needed flexibility. However, there is still room for improvement when it comes to potential distractions during virtual meetings.

In my weekly check-in with Dawan Stanford, Director of Innovation and Design in the Office of Academic Affairs, he referenced a Harvard Business Review article stating that looking at yourself on Zoom was cognitively taxing. He shared that he had found success removing his own image from the video feed to focus on the other meeting participants.

He informed me that it is extremely easy to hide yourself in both Zoom and Teams. The ellipses (…) on you picture in both applications allows you to turn off the mirror, so that others see you while you do not see yourself. I immediately decided to turn off the Zoom/Team mirror as an experiment to see whether it made a difference in how tired I felt at the end of the day and how engaged I was during meetings.

It was a resounding success for me. I know that I am at my best when I am focusing on others rather than myself. What I discovered was that having the video of myself on during meetings shifted my focus to myself. I was constantly checking in to see how I looked and was worried about how others perceived me. Turning off that virtual mirror more closely simulated being in person, where you can’t see yourself.

I looked up the HBR article on How to Combat Zoom Fatique and there were several other suggestions like having agreements about when to turn off your camera during meetings and going for walk-and-talks without video.

I would encourage you to see if turning off the Zoom mirror helps you, and would love to hear about other things that help you focus on others and manage your energy.

Prioritizing Important Work

My days can be highjacked by urgent requests, especially as an IT professional. Important work that is less time-sensitive gets pushed aside for more pressing needs. I have adopted the following routine to prevent important projects from falling to the wayside.

  1. Most Important Work First – Each Monday morning, I create a list of the most important things that I need to accomplish for the week. I usually have several categories that I have adjusted over time. Right now, the categories that I use are Personal, Management, Relationships and Culture.
  2. Keep it Organized – As I make commitments during the week, I add them to the appropriate list.
  3. Focus Time is Key – I schedule focus work time in my calendar to first prioritize the tasks on my lists and then work on the most important items first.
  4. Check In Often – The lists I make each week are the anchor to my often-hectic schedule. I make sure to check in each day to see how I am progressing, and to reprioritize tasks if necessary.

I don’t always get everything done on each list by Friday, so the unfinished items can get transferred to the next week. While I may not have gotten to everything on my lists, this habit ensures that nothing gets lost in the chaos of more urgent requests.

What do you do to help you focus on the most important things?

Discomfort Helps Us Grow

Woman gardening

Examining the stories we tell ourselves has been one of the themes that I have found in many of the most effective leadership tools. As humans, we instinctively create explanations (stories) that reconcile what we are seeing (facts) to what we are feeling (emotions).  This happens so instantaneously, that it is unclear whether the stories create our emotions or if our emotions create our stories.

For many years, I avoided talking about emotions, thinking that they just needed to be managed or ignored. I am coming to see emotions as clues that can help me know when I need to examine my stories, assumptions and core beliefs. This is especially important when I am uncomfortable and feel ungrounded in some way.

When I am uncomfortable, I often find myself looking for someone to blame for my feelings of discomfort, and often I blame myself. My experience is that this is untrue, unhelpful, ineffective, and completely normal and human.

What I know is that my feelings of discomfort are about me, not about the situation that I am facing; I create my own suffering. Recognizing that gives me back my power and points me to doing my own work to understand myself. This is the deep work that each of us must do ourselves if we want to transform and grow.

For me, discomfort can mean many things. It might mean that I am avoiding a conversation that I need to have with someone on my team. It may mean that I am hangry and need to get some healthy food. It may mean that I am tired and need better sleep. It may mean that I am feeling self-doubt and fear of my own failure and need to focus on serving others.

Instead of viewing discomfort as something bad that I need to end as soon as possible, I know that it is temporary and a clue to helping me figure out the best path forward. How do you deal with discomfort?

Examining Trust

One of my favorite parts of my morning walks is listening to podcasts. I get to learn while I get my endorphins.  I listened for a second time this morning to a Brené Brown conversation with Charles Feltman, the author of The Thin Book of Trust.

Lack of trust has been an area of concern in our annual Voice of the Employee survey, and it has been highlighted to me in many conversations in the last few weeks, so I have been thinking a lot about how to be better at building trust.

The definition of trust as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s action” is at the core of why this is so important and difficult. It is also complicated by the fact that trust is multi-layered.

  • Do I trust that you have my interests at heart in addition to your own?
  • Do I trust that you are being honest?
  • Do I trust you to do what you commit to doing?
  • Do I trust your competence?
  • Do I trust that you can keep a confidence?

In Brown’s conversation with Feltman, there was a marvelous exchange about whether you could trust someone in some areas and not others and both agreed that it is both possible and critical to do that.

I am still processing what I learned, but my key personal takeaway from the podcast was that it is often the lack of clear commitments and boundaries that create the foundation of distrust. I need to work on that!

I would love to hear what you learned from this podcast or about how to think about trust.