March 1st, 2017
In this day and age, when the whole world seems to be operating in some type of Bizarro alternate universe, where up is down and truth is fiction and fiction is passed off as truth, and stress rules, wouldn’t it be nice if all that time we spend in meetings was less stressful instead of adding to the stress?
Where your voice is heard?
Not feeling silenced!
Especially if you’ve taken on the noble task of organizing your community to bring some sanity back to our political reality, and you’re trying to run a meeting, or be part of a meeting, where some people need to ‘dial-in’ because they’re busy juggling getting babies to bed while working to save the planet.
Or, you just want your work life to be more balanced and spending time in pointless meetings has got you down.
Either way, let’s address what started as a difficult form of communication to begin with. Assembling a bunch of people together in a room to get stuff done. And then became even more difficult as we removed some of the people and added cell phones, speaker phones, WebEx, Facetime, Skype, you-name-it to the mix.
Let’s make it saner, shall we…
Let’s start by addressing the reality that Virtual meetings are in fact a different breed of animal than regular meetings. As such, they require (I’d even say DEMAND) the introduction and adherence to a few basic, but different, civil rights. Here are 3 steps to get you started…
- Assign the role of Virtual Meeting Facilitator (VMF) to a different person than the meeting organizer/chair/leader/whatever-you-want-to-call the head honcho. This person is responsible for setting up and making sure that EVERYONE (even if they think they’ll be there in person, just in case they find themselves sitting in the airport waiting area to board their last-minute flight to Zimbabwe) has the links, call-in #’s, passwords, access codes, etc. needed to join the meeting virtually. Also, if, no excuse me, WHEN there is a problem with accessing the technology, the VMF is the one who gets the call. NOT the person trying to run the meeting. Why should everyone in the room (and those that have joined the meeting successfully) have to suffer when one person hasn’t figured out their technology?
- Add a few Virtual Meeting Operating Agreements (VMOA) to your regular Operating Agreement’s (OA). If one of your OA’s is Be Respectful (my personal favorite and my only non-negotiable if I’m facilitating) add under that agreement list that those calling in will use the Mute Button when they’re not speaking (so we don’t all have to listen to the clicking of their keyboard while they catch up on their email). Another one under that same banner would be to make a point of asking the call-ins their opinion from time-to-time since it’s hard to know if they’re raising their hands or needing to say something through their body language. Another good VMOA that you might add would be for those on the phone – please remember to say your name before speaking so everyone knows who you are; or, if you want to engage with someone who is on the phone, thread them into the conversation by starting with their name before asking them your question. Last, but not least, as a facilitator, use round-robin instead of popcorn style when someone asks a question of the team. That way there isn’t as much dead air while folks politely wait for someone else to offer their opinion.
- Agree as a team to keep looking for new ways to improve on the VM experience. For example, going from conference calls (audio only) to a full A/V platform (Skype, Facetime, WebEx, etc.) allows all of you to ‘see’ each other rather than just the folks in the room. Have your VMF be on the lookout for the platform that’s right for you (new ones are popping up by the minute). Have your VMF be responsible for managing the crossover to any new platform, ensuring that the transition is as smooth as possible. Make sure that before you start the new platform all those ‘dialing in’ have experimented with the new tech and know how to work it. Written instructions, w/ access codes, url’s and passwords all on one neat sheet. You get my drift here…
These three steps are meant to be in addition to regular, good meeting practices that deserve to be an integral part of how your meetings are run. For pointers on how to do just that, click here. And/or, take this quick quiz on how efficient (or maddening) your meetings are currently operating. A great metric to start with!
December 11th, 2016
Disappointment, loss, grief, and, shock (DLGS). That was my November. Especially on the morning of 11/9, which was especially shocking, as shocking in fact as the events of 9/11 (a numerologist would have a great time with that one).
For me, all of this DLGS on 11/9 was about to be fully sandwiched by two other events, full of disappointment, loss and grief. First, the somewhat sudden passing of my 42-year old godson, on Halloween. I had just been in touch with his mom, one of my oldest, dearest friends, as she was helping him move into hospice, and I was planning on arriving the next day to see them. Then, within a few hours of getting settled at hospice, he was gone.
The sandwich on the other side was a memorial service on 11/15 for a long-standing coaching client from one of my all-time favorite teams. He was an incredible inventor (including the Craisin). A great story teller. A wonderful family man. Only 59 years old. Fine one minute. Gone the next.
The silver lining, right in the middle of all this loss and grief, was a delightful dinner party, hosted by my old friend Katie, who had been planning on having a dozen of us over to celebrate the election results. Which as you may have guessed turned into a somber, soul-searching evening. No celebrating for us.
Yet, our hostess had the wisdom, and the will, to lead us on a process of active listening, and deep sharing. Each of the dinner guests took turns first introducing ourselves and explaining our connection to our host & hostess. Then, at the dinner table, Katie asked us to share how we were feeling, what we were thinking. With rapt intent, we listened as each person made their personal accounting of how deeply troubled and concerned we were by what had just happened, and what may yet come to pass – post-election, mid-shock, still stunned.
Having that unexpectedly yet wonderfully intimate, deeply personal (yet in some ways universal) description of where each person was, right at this exact moment in time, had me feeling better already. Uplifted beyond belief. Just knowing that others were in a similar place, and hearing where they might go from here, brought a ray of hope and possibility.
I was particularly struck by our host’s description of how he felt like he has been living in a bubble. Actually, a bubble within a bubble. Living on an idyllic, socially responsible, working farm (first bubble), located in the State of VT (bigger bubble; Bernie’s bubble).
The whole experience left me thinking of David Whyte’s missive on Disappointment:
The measure of our courage is the measure of our willingness to embrace disappointment, to turn towards it rather than away, the understanding that every real conversation of life involves having our hearts broken somewhere along the way and that there is no sincere path we can follow where we will not be fully and immeasurably let down and brought to earth, and where what initially looks like a betrayal, eventually puts real ground under our feet.
The great question in disappointment is whether we allow it to bring us to ground, to a firmer sense of our self, a surer sense of our world, and what is good and possible for us in that world, or whether we experience it only as a wound that makes us retreat from further participation.
Disappointment is a friend to transformation, a call to both accuracy and generosity in the assessment of our self and others, a test of sincerity and a catalyst of resilience. Disappointment is just the initial meeting with the frontier of an evolving life, an invitation to reality, which we expected to be one particular way and turns out to be another, often something more difficult, more overwhelming and strangely, in the end, more rewarding.
More rewarding if we each commit to behaving as Leaders. Step out of our bubbles. Better yet, burst out of our bubbles. No more sheep. No more checking out, letting others lead, or just waiting for the world to change (as John Mayer sang once). Time to step up. Engage openly, honestly, compassionately with others. Even if, especially if, they don’t come from our old, safe, self-replicating bubble.
Lead on my friends!
October 10th, 2012
Last week, while making the drive from my New York office up to my Vermont office, coming up Route 22A where it enters VT, I was suddenly and vividly reminded of why I chose VT as my escape route out of the metropolitan suburbs of the 60’s. Three things struck me: 1) the vast open sky that seems to stretch out forever, though it’s nicely framed by the Adirondacks on one side and the Green mountains on the other; 2) the unobstructed landscape below – gracefully assisted by the lack of billboards, thanks to the foresight of VT’s Legislature in the 60’s, and, 3) the small number of houses, and consequently a landscape that not only allowed for but actively promoted long, slow, deep breathing.
So what does any of this have to do w/ mentoring? Well, while I did have some very significant mentors growing up outside of NYC, my most memorable and meaningful mentors have mostly been here in VT. Starting with my first career as an educator, Sandra Wyner, a strikingly beautiful South African woman who studied Montessori with Maria’s son Mario, in Bergamo, Italy, the way it was meant to be taught; with the focus on the student, the teacher a mere facilitator and resource provider. Sandra and I started a modified-Montessori, parent-cooperative elementary school in 1976 that is still going strong today. She mentored me in the art of individualized education, collaborative process and transactional analysis (a system for personal growth and personal change.)
The 80’s led me out of teaching and into the realm of business, where I had the good fortune to work side-by-side with many amazingly bright and talented individuals. My most memorable mentor was a scrappy old codger named Hank Adams, who hired me to serve as General Manager at his thriving mechanical services business, and was a mentor to me in ways I’m still learning from. Although Hank had to leave high school to help his father run his business, he had the kind of business savvy that just can’t be learned pursuing an MBA. For example, when considering recruiting for key positions as we were growing the business, he would challenge my pedigreed aspirants, shiny resumes and all, with the phrase “someone we know, even if they’re only a middle-of-the-road leader, is always preferable to the unknown know-it-all.” Understanding and developing leaders takes time and commitment. Short cuts should be few and far between.
By the time the 90’s came around I realized that I needed to cultivate my leadership capabilities both inside and outside the workplace. I ran for our local school board and had the good fortune to initially serve on the board with the superintendent, Fred Tuttle. Fred was not only a kind, intelligent, humble, compassionate leader, with over forty years of experience in the field, he knew that the business of education was really the business of people. He had the ability to connect with people, all kinds of people – directly, deeply and most importantly, meaningfully. He taught me, by example, more about how great leaders can build connections, than any other leader I’ve had the good fortune to mentor under.
Around the turn of the millennium, I met, and mentored under, a colleague, Dean Lea, who is a Renaissance man extraordinaire. Although he hadn’t practiced as a pharmacologist for years, Dean understood the essence of that field, part alchemist, part researcher, facilitator, advocate, life -long learner. As an arborist, he brought some of those same skills to his apple orchards. As an organizational development consultant and executive coach, he used all of those and more. And on top of all that, he has taught me that one’s quirkiness (and Dean can be quite quirky) is to be cherished, not suppressed.
And, of course, mentoring is at its best when it goes both ways. For years now I’ve considered it an honor to provide the mitzvah of mentoring, particularly to young people between jobs and/or careers. My way of giving back, paying it forward. So what an added bonus when I had the opportunity to begin formally mentoring my daughter, Alexa, when she agreed to come to work for me earlier this year. She’s always had an affinity for coaching work, the ‘go-to girl’ not only with her friends but also folks of all ages and backgrounds. A great listener, compassionate to the core and always ready, willing and able to lend a hand to help get things done. Together, we have studied the art of effective communication, creative business problem solving and how to lead by example.
The best of both worlds.
Giving and getting.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
April 4th, 2011
It was 1986. I just had to scratch the entrepreneurial itch again. I had helped start a parent-cooperative elementary school, The Schoolhouse, ten years earlier, and wanted to start something in my ‘new’ field, energy conservation / energy management, which I entered back in ’79 after six years as an educator. Bernie Sanders had been elected Mayor of Burlington by a 10 vote margin five years earlier and Burlington was just beginning to be a hotbed for progressive politics, food and business, my real passions.
I answered an ad in the Burlington Free Press titled “Wanted: General Manager/Entrepreneur” to start-up and head-up an employee-owned and managed energy services company, that was to be the for-profit part of Vermont Energy Investment Corp’s (VEIC) double business plan.
January 31st, 2011
Talk about a tough job load! Yes, I know how hard many of our CEO’s have it, especially the women CEO’s and executives who not only have to juggle the demands of employees, customers, their Board, the Street and whatever current key stakeholder has their hooks into them at any given moment. But for a minute consider Moses… when God handed him the Ten Commandments and told him he had to both lead his people out of servitude, into the desert AND institute an whole new set of policies and procedures.
October 27th, 2010
Don’t know if this is pc or not. Calling out what I just keep noticing over and over again, in all kinds of industries, in all types of positions, across the six different decades I’ve had the good fortune to work with/for others. Women make better leaders than men. Maybe not managers… but maybe that too. Definitely better leaders though.
I base my assertion on what appears to be a generally higher level of emotional intelligence, more intuitive decision making, more effective communicating and a cohort that is better able to motivate others through both personal and organizational connection.
March 27th, 2010
This particular line of reasoning was originally inspired by an educator, Parker Palmer (http://www.couragerenewal.org/), who wrote a few books on this theme, Courage to Teach and Courage to Lead. His hypothesis goes something like this…
Good teachers are good at two essential elements of teaching – they know their subject (content experts) and they know how to teach it (pedagogy). All well and good.