Get Off The Sidelines

I haven’t been posting for quite some time with the excuse that life (work and family) has gotten in my way. What I realized after some reflection this week is that I miss writing about things that matter to me. This blog has been an outlet to make that happen, so here we go again. No promises of my frequency, but you will know, if I am writing here I am probably a bit more balanced than if I am not as it means I am creating the time to reflect (and write). So, I am getting off the sidelines and back in the game.

Over the last week, I have had the fortunate opportunity to attend two separate events that are motivating me to get off the sidelines in a number of ways. The first event was the first ever Utah Wonder Women Summit. The Utah Wonder Women is a group of influential women leaders in Utah working to help each other succeed. The day long summit was an opportunity to convene with a focus on building the visibility of female leadership in Utah. This event was followed by SUREFIRE girls, an event for teenage girls in Utah to help them see the magnitude of opportunities available to them. A big shout out to Jacki Zehner, the original Utah Wonder Women, for her relentless dedication, drive and initiative to make these two events happen.

So much inspiration at these events. This photo is a picture of the SUREFIRE ambassadors, ranging from junior high through seniors in high school, on stage talking about what they are hoping to learn from the SUREFIRE event. I was struck how powerful it was for these teenagers to see a room of 100+ female leaders in the audience focused on helping each other, developing our skills, aspiring to help Utah be a better place for female leadership tomorrow than it is today. But, what made me even more amazed was the energy that I took from these ladies reminding me of my role to get of the sidelines and dedicate even more time and energy to making the community, the state, our business environment and the country a better place for these ladies than it is today.

In case I wasn’t inspired enough leaving the UWW Summit, I headed this week to FORTUNE magazine’s Most Powerful Women Next Generation conference. It was an honor to be able to attend this. I guess you can call it part two of a reinforcement to get off the sidelines. With all of the stories recently about sexual harassment and assault, much of the event had a theme of being vocal. Stories of both a pursuit for gender and race equality as well as the recent #MeToo social movement came from all sides of the room. Business leaders, athletes and entertainers spoke of their own experiences with a call to action to be vocal and through our voices ensure that equality and respect are what we expect. Hope Solo, former goalie of the US Women’s National Soccer team, spoke candidly of her pursuit for pay equality in US Soccer, and her own personal experience with harassment. She also shared her clear belief that she was fired for being vocal.

One of my favorite speakers across these two events was Pat Mitchell. Pat is known for her leadership in the media industry as a CEO, producer and curator. She has used her position of influence and leadership as a force for social change. Among other great accomplishments, she is the host and curator of the global TEDWomen conference. Her talk was on power, and how we need to own it and use it to lead and drive change. Her eloquent speech was calm, reassuring and enabled me to center myself. We often perceive power to be masculine, but it isn’t. The definition of power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. Nothing masculine about that. One of the quotes she shared was from Bella Abzug, a lawyer, member of the US House of Representatives, and social activist and leader of the Women’s movement.

“Women will change the nature of power, rather than power changing the nature of women.” – Bella Abzug

Both of these events came at a great time for me. I have been working very hard lately and am probably off balance with how I am spending my time. I am still home for my family in the evenings at a reasonable time, working out a few times a week and trying my best to be a great spouse. So, it isn’t about work-life balance. That said, I am relentlessly moving when I am gone, pushing myself to always keep taking a step forward on the issues that matter every day in my work. There is a lot of good in this (especially for our business).

What I recognized after this week is that by dedicating so much energy here, I may be missing some of the things that I need to be doing to fulfill my purpose. I need to get off the sidelines, but not in a way that drives more “movement” at the office, or more stress. Instead, getting off the sidelines is about choosing to channel my “movement” to more effectively influence positive change for women in business, media and policy. So, thanks Pat for the advice. I am planning on owning my power and using it to drive change.

Commitments: Take Time to Think

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Over the last month, and in particular the past two weeks, we have been in the midst of fall planning.  I tend to love this time of year, despite the fact it makes us really busy, because it causes us to step back from our day to day and assess how things are going and where we should go from here.  These reflection and assessment times are key elements to helping us propel our organization and our business to the next level.

After a tiring and inspiring two weeks, where I stepped away from my daily whirlwind for a full five days, whether it be for our executive retreat or my team’s leadership planning summit, I wonder out-loud (if that is what writing a blog is?) why I don’t do this more often? There is something ceremonious about the fall planning retreat, but truthfully I felt like we moved the needle on our organization more in the last few weeks that I may have all year.  So, why not do this more?  Why do we as business leaders see stepping away from the whirlwind as a luxury, or a bi-annual event, versus thinking of stepping back as more of the norm?

To be clear, I am not talking about having more “retreats” or big, off-site events, but instead I am advocating for creating more brain space in our schedules as leaders.  Time more regularly to think and reflect, to innovate and be creative.  This year, I have been working to create 90 minutes of unscheduled time on my calendar every single day.  This is really hard.  I have more than 100 people who want regular one-to-one meetings with me, as well as being a part of business reviews and accountability sessions with my team and others in the organization.  I am a part of at least two teams (mine and our executive team) whose team meetings alone take 10-12 hours a month out of my schedule, not to mention the working teams that break out of these groups to help to move key initiatives and projects forward.  How, amongst all of these pulls on my time, can I create more unscheduled time in my calendar?  And, since I am not used to having it, how will I prevent myself from losing it to distraction if it arrives?

With this pursuit, I have definitely improved my time dedication to assessment and reflection, but not near to where I would like it to be.  Here are a few things that I have learned that may help in this journey, or at least remind me in the future, as I am sure I will have times I forget.

  1. Have a plan or a goal.  I (and likely many business professionals) work better with a plan or a goal.  Whether it be 90 minutes a day of unscheduled time, or simply a bike ride a week, this helped me focus my energy and time effectively.
  2. Tell people about your goal.  Accountability is an amazing thing.  The more you socialize what you are doing, the more I have felt accountable to not just myself for this improvement exercise.
  3. Don’t be down on yourself.  Change is hard.  I failed more days this year than I have succeeded, but if I get down on myself for this, it defeats the purpose.  Being kind and forgivining to myself is hard, in fact, sometimes almost impossible.  The more accepting at my own misses, the better I am at improving.
  4. Get creative on solutions.  For me, unscheduled calendar time isn’t the only way to create time for reflection (despite the original goal).  Ensuring that I have time dedicated to other activities like riding my bike, working out, outside learning time, reading, community events has helped this journey.  During these times, although my mind is far from quiet, I think and reflect.  In fact, my best organizational structure idea in the last two years came while on my mountain bike riding “Flying Dog” trail in Park City, Utah.

I guess it would be fitting to close this blog post with a commitment.  In a life with a lot of things pulling at me – my adorable children, a desire to have quality time with Jon, my job, business travel on both sides of our family and a desire to stay healthy – it is easy to not keep up with this.  My commitment today is that I will keep trying, and not be frustrated with my progress or failures.

Commitments: Drive (Live) at a Safe and Healthy Speed

Life moves at a constant 80 mph in my world.  Occasionally, I ramp to 110 mph for a two to three day period (like the last week).  Sometimes, if I am lucky, there is a deceleration to 65, but it is for certain a temporary slowing just to get around an obstacle.  As soon as I clear the obstacle, back on the accelerator to get up to driving 80 in a 65 mph speed limit zone.

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I am always keeping tabs on just how much faster I can go than the speed limit before I get a speeding ticket.  In my almost 39 years of life, and 23 years of driving it seems like 10 mph over the limit is an easy “no ticket”, I think of it as a safe 75 mph.  When I drive by a sitting police officer on the highway at 80 mph, I am wondering, “will he pull out and ticket me” or “did I make it through this time.”

As I sit here today, after running at about 90-110 mph all week with work and life both on overdrive, I think of the irony of this analogy.  Maybe instead of worrying about whether I am going to get a speeding ticket, I should be thinking about what speed to drive (live) and not as much about whether “I made it through this time.”

Deep thoughts always lead to a commitment post.  Today, I am committing to choosing a more healthy speed for my life and not just letting life keep pushing the accelerator down for me.

Back to the Blog – The 5 Things That I Love About Blogging

Summer is officially over.  Kids are back at school finishing the end of their 3rd week. Time to get back writing the blog.  I have missed it, but with the busy schedules of the summer it was a nice break.  One of my goals this summer was to be outside as much as possible, and taking a break from the chains of my laptop was a big help in making that happen.

I am refreshed after three months.  I have overcome my lack of ideas which was plaguing me in June.  I have created a mental list of “breakthrough” content and I can’t wait to pour it onto the screen.  Oh wait, when I open the WordPress template this morning, and try to figure out where to start, nothing.  Nothing at all.  How can this be?  Where did all of those late night ideas go, or the ones I had while on the mountain bike trail this summer.  Lost in the land of writers block.  Nothing.

So, the only place for me to start is by reminding myself why I do this.  Here are my top five reasons why I blog.  Let’s hope that this helps me remember that I do love it.

  1. It makes me grateful for what I have in my life.  When writing, I often step back and think about all of the good things around me.  When I am going at 100mph daily, it is so easy to overlook the all of the good around me.
  2. It allows me a vehicle for creative expression.  I have an amazing team at work, and because they are so great, I don’t get to play in the work as much.  Good problem to have, but the blog becomes necessary.
  3. It is something that I do for me.  Given my job, my kids, my husband my family and my friends filling up the time in my life, I rarely do things just for me.  I am realizing this may be a little ironic assuming that someone out there is probably reading this.
  4. It allows me to think further out than just about today.  Often in reflecting about what to write, I take a longer view of life than normal.  When writing, I am not worried about today or tomorrows schedule but instead focusing on something in the future.
  5. It helps me to open up.  I was reading an article today about 5 Habits That Are Destroying Your Ability To Lead.  The first one of these is about “Isolating Yourself.”  Isolation as a leader can take many forms – from physical to mental to emotional.  I never intend to isolate myself from my team, but sometimes schedule makes it happen.  I find that when I write, it helps me become ready to be open with my team and takes some of my personal walls down.

So, it is worth it.  It is worth the writers block and the frustration associated with ideas not flowing.  It is worth directing my small amount of personal time this direction.  At least, that is my conclusion for now.  Stay tuned as I am sure that over the next few weeks as I get back in the swing of things, you may find me writing a blog titled the “5 things I Hate About Blogging”.  But, for now, my commitment is to stick with it!

Commitments: Make The Next Half Even Better (and Longer)

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I am 38 years old with two adorable kids and a wonderful husband.  2 working parents with travel schedules, building a new house, trying to be involved in our community, and trying to be great parents.  Living life in a place I love, with the people that I love.  Pretty much the luckiest woman around.  You could also read this as overly busy but trying to have it all.

For the last few weeks, as I have been working on planning for my husbands 40th birthday which is coming this fall, I have been coming to grips with how short life seems.  I know that this may sound melodramatic.  What hit me in talking with Jon about turning 40, is that mathmatically, given the average life expectancy, we are about half way through our life (or a little past that).  This can either scare me or make me celebrate what lies ahead.  What it actually has caused me to do, as I start thinking about it, is to wonder if it is true.  We have a number of family friends or relatives that are dealing with serious cancer, and I have a coworker who is 48 who has recently been diagnosed with Stage 2 ovarian cancer.  All of it is shocking, and sad.  In particular those who are so young, and haven’t lived the life that they have claimed to have wanted.  It is a morbid thought, but my worry-meter has been rising.  This worry was capped off this week when I attended the “Go Red for Women” luncheon hosted by the American Heart Association.  One of the speakers was a 38 year old mother of two boys who had a major heart incident at the age of 31.  Yikes!  A little too close to home.

But, the worst thing I can do is to worry.  Worry fills my head and my time with ideas and thoughts that have no fruit. So yesterday, as I sat writing this at the salon while getting my nails done during “girls day out” with my lovely Katharine, I have a renewed commitment to enjoying the moments of my life (even the stressful and busy ones).  A commitment to making choices in my life and our families life (our food, our exercise, our habits) that create a long healthy life together.  And, a commitment to make what I hope is a longer second half of my life even better than the first.

Commitments: Leading Change Within My Organization

So often in my career, I have seen the best ideas get sidelined, smart risks not taken, and current organizational inertia stop the momentum of truly important business initiatives.  I sit here wondering what makes this happen, in hopes to prevent it in my current organization.

A story tells way more than me pontificating on the philosophy of change.  When I worked at Procter & Gamble, in our Cosmetics division, being a brand manager required a heavy dose of analytics and core business strength.  I had recently moved over from a finance background, so this played to my strengths.  Several months into the job, as I was learning more about the business, and felt more comfortable about understanding my new job, I realized that the sales trend in one of our product lines was dismal.  Given the complexity of our business, this wasn’t an obvious conclusion.  We had been shipping in product to our retailers, and sell-thru was horrible.  The product had been on the market for about a year, and we needed an intervention, and quickly.  The great thing about being a marketer is that it is my job was to figure out and recommend how to fix it, in partnership with my sales peers.  I knew it would be an uphill battle to invest more behind the product, but despite that we came up with a strong marketing plan with general advertising, retail promotion and a sampling plan.  And, after proposing a relative affordable and conservative plan to our executive leadership, we got the fastest no that I had ever experienced.

Why?  I am sure there was a lot to the “no” that I couldn’t see, but as I reflect on it, much of it had to do with organizational inertia.  We did not make investment decisions lightly as a company.  The degree of analytical rigor needed to gain alignment, and proof in return-on-investment, made most initiatives get stopped in their tracks.  Our then president, had built a number of systems and process stage-gates that decisions must move through.  In the process, needed change didn’t often happen.  The organization was brilliant at change management, but in an effort to “manage” the change, great decisions were getting left behind.

It is so easy to fall in this trap as a leader.  Sometimes we want to control things versus empowering ideas.  The more I am in my current job, the more I find myself spending my free time thinking about how to unleash ideas.  My organization is built to deliver results, and sometimes we hold ourselves a little too accountable, with a little too much rigor, and thus miss the creativity and the idea flow needed to drive future success.

At this stage in my career and my job, I recognize both the strength in the “change management” skill but also the need for “change leadership.”  John Kotter, the resident expert in the topic, describes the difference in these two skills in an article that i read years ago.  One of my favorite quotes in the article is about change leadership as an engine.

“Change leadership is much more associated with putting an engine on the whole change process, and making it go faster, smarter, more efficiently.”   – John Kotter

As leaders, if we think of our role in change leadership as finding the right change, and adding the engine through our people, we will accomplish so much for our teams and our companies.  With this will come failure, and lots of learning, but hopefully a lot more success.  So, my commitment for this evening is to lead change within my organization.

Commitments: Shape the Future Through Lessons Learned

Over the last two weeks, I have spent time setting my work goals for 2015.  I like this process every year as it is a time to reflect on where I have come over the last year, and it helps to drive clarity as to what I want from the next year. This year it is particularly gratifying as feel like I am coming off the best year ever for my team (thank you to any of you are reading this!).  As I set up for an even better 2015, I reflect on the lessons that I have learned this year.

1.  The Power of Attitude.  However cliche this may sound, I continue to be reminded as each year passes how important my daily attitude is to accomplishing things.  This year a handful of work challenges reminded me of this more than ever.  It is hard to maintain a positive attitude each day, and everyone has ups and downs.  This year, more than once, I stepped away from my desk when I had a bad attitude and it helped tremendously.  And, those times I didn’t, it dramatically impacted the effectiveness of my decision making.

2.  Worrying Won’t Get You Anywhere, Acting Will.  I am a born worrier.  My grandmother was a worrier, my mom is a worrier, and thus, I am a worrier.  Often times, when I am left with downtime, I fill it with worries.  At the end of the summer, I was driving myself crazy worrying about how back-to-school was going to go, and how I was going to handle another year with Jon traveling.  Finally, I just decided to act.  Today, we have some help now with the kids a few days a week after school and I feel more balanced because of it.  It wasn’t a hard solution, but one that I couldn’t see while I was worrying.

3.  Ask for What You Want.  You can call this “leaning in” or simply being clear.  One of the hardest things about this lesson, and unfortunately what I have struggled with before, is that you have to know what you want to ask for it.  Without asking for it, the people around you will not infer from your actions what it is.  You have to make it explicitly clear.  When you do this, it will be hard, but it is a critical step in reaching your goals.

Most days I feel stronger than I did a year ago, and I believe recognizing the lessons of last year will help make next year even better.  My commitment for today is to shape the future from the lessons of the past.

Commitments: Help Utah Female Professionals Succeed

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Recently, my friend pointed me toward an article in the recent Utah Business magazine that gave the facts on the employment of women and men in Utah and their current wages.  The data was sourced to the U.S. Census Bureau 2008 – 2012 American Community Survey.  And, it made me sad.  Out of just over 1.2 million employed, civilian workers females made up 44.4% of the workforce and earned a median $20,053 per year (compared to males at $39,880).

In doing some follow up research, I got a lot more sad at the current state of affairs in Utah for female professionals.  It ultimately makes me worried for my daughter, wanting to figure out a way to help her lean to navigate the workforce reality.  USA Today stated in a recent article that Utah is the #1 worst state for women.  The methodology for their rating looks at wage gap, women in private company leadership, women in state legislature, poverty rate and infant mortality rate.  The article even noted that in Utah, women are holding less than 1 in 3 management positions.

I have been a resident of Utah for about 10 of the last 13 years.  I never thought I would live in Utah.  I met Jon at a wedding in Ohio, and I vividly remember him telling me he lived in Utah.  Utah?  I knew California, Las Vegas, Yellowstone and the Colorado rockies, but Utah?  Weren’t people from Utah either Mormon or ski bums?  Jon didn’t seem like either when I met him, so I went with it.  I was simply a love-struck 20 something, wondering more about where our next date weekend would be than the state of the workforce for female professionals.  I ultimately moved here, have fallen in love with the place, and have led about half of my 16 year career in the state.

Now, I consider myself a Utah local, a professional woman, and one of the apparently few female company executives in the state. I sit here thinking about how my role as a female executive can help drive change.  It is ironic to think this way, because I rarely, if ever, think about being a woman at work.  Over the years, I have come to work, tried my hardest to succeed every day, looked for opportunities to stretch myself, learned a lot, and ultimately tried not to take no for an answer.  By not defining myself using my gender, I have never seen professional boundaries.  This boundary-less world view has by its definition opened up my eyes to opportunities that I would otherwise never have seen.

I want to help, and take a purposeful role in making the future better in Utah for women.  But, I feel stuck.  Due to the fact that I am a working mother of two, and have the job that I have, I have little time to give to anything beyond my family and my job.  I feel guilty and sad to see this state of affairs and not be able to give more to help change it.  That said, this reality I live in of having to forcefully prioritize the time that I have, has been one of the things that has made me successful over the years.  So, my game plan is to help in the way my schedule and life allow.  I figured writing down a few commitments would help me to remember to stay accountable.

  • Raising strong-willed, independent children with Jon who see professional women as the norm;
  • Helping people in my team succeed as female professionals (in particular working moms);
  • Continue building a culture at CHG Healthcare where it is possible to be a successful working mom and a working dad;
  • Mentor people whenever I can find a spare moment helping to guide them through the choices that they need to make;
  • And, most importantly, never give up on my own dreams.  Shape them to be what I want them to be, not what others think is the right answer.

A short but important list that will hopefully help make a difference.

Commitments: Continue To Grow As A Leader

I have had one of the hardest weeks of work in my career this week.  It has caused me to look internally, and to evaluate myself in earnest as a leader.  I don’t know what it is about the work issue that made this self evaluation come in, but it made for a few nights of little sleep, a strong need to get my workouts in, and now a need to write a blog about it.  What I have been spending time evaluating is my strength as a leader.  I am good at some things, and not so good at others.

So, here are my top five leadership commitments for 2015:

  1. As a leader, give your time to developing the strengths in others.  As we grow in our career, we are often valued for the individual contributions that we make.  In the transition to a leader, the value you create has less to do with your personal contributions and more to do with your team and what they can deliver.  This shift from an individual contributor to a leader takes time to learn, and forces purposeful reallocation of your time.  Instead of your time being about you and your work, it is about your people.  If you are taking up the majority of your time, or the limelight, your team isn’t, so change it.  Allocate your time to the development of others and you will succeed.
  2. When helping a team member develop, keep the end goal in mind.  Sometimes when you are actively coaching an employee to help them improve, it is easy to get so granular in your coaching that it feels to them like you are unsatisfied with their every move.  Often, you see “your way” as the only way to do something, and your coaching is working to shape their behavior to “your way”.  As the leader, if you focus on the end goal for the individuals development, instead of the specific gaps you see in their daily work, you will bring your feedback in effectively as versus on every small thing that they may be doing differently than “your way”.  And, in the process, you may find new ways.
  3. Listen to truly understand.  Allow your point of view to be molded.  Just because you got to your position of leadership, doesn’t mean that you know everything.  To get the best out of your team, spend your time truly listening to the perspective of your people.  Their practical experiences and creative thinking may bring out a better solution than you ever could have determined on your own.
  4. Focus on alignment.  Being misaligned, particularly on some of the most fundamental things in your business, is a poison.  When I say alignment, I mean alignment upward within your organization, sideways, and downward to your direct reports.   Your job as a leader is to bring things into alignment to drive the most effective results.
  5. Recognize when you are in over your head.  Every leader, and every employee in an organization, gets in over their head at some point.  It is inevitable in a changing workplace and helps us to grow and stretch.  The key is to recognize it, accept it, and deal with it by building capability around you.  You show strength by giving in to this, and partnering with people around you to develop a solution.

My commitment for the week has less to do with this week, and more to do with the next year and beyond.  Based on what I learned in my hard week at work, it is even more important.  I commit to continue to grow as an individual and as a leader in the hopes that it helps those around me.

Commitments: Let the Game Come To You

Throughout my career, one of the most helpful pieces of feedback I have received is to “let it come to you.”  My first boss, Joe Haynes, gave me this advice.  I don’t know the origin of the phrase officially, but most often I have heard it used in sports…”let the game come to you.”  About a year ago, after an incident at my current job where I wish I would have applied this feedback, I decided to research a little bit more about this phrase.

One of the articles that I read was a review of Phil Jackson’s book Eleven Rings:  The Soul of Success.  In the review it explained Jackson’s characterization of Michael Jordan’s play.  He described Jordan’s ability to lay back when he wasn’t on his game, and to not force it.  Jordan had a deep confidence in his ability, and he never felt as if he had to prove his greatness.  This was contrasted to Kobe Bryant, who although a tremendous player, pushed hard even when he wasn’t on his game or when the defense had him.

“Jordan was also more naturally inclined to let the game come to him and not overplay his hand, whereas Kobe tends to force the action, especially when the game isn’t going his way. When his shot is off, Kobe will pound away relentlessly until his luck turns. Michael, on the other hand, would shift his attention to defense or passing or setting screens to help the team win the game.”  – Phil Jackson

In my career, I have always been the young one, feeling like the underdog.  I remember celebrating turning thirty professionally.  I felt like I no longer had to explain away my lack of years in life.  For some reason being the young one at the table made me feel like I had to go above and beyond to prove myself and build respect.  I would put the pressure on myself to be good all the time.  When things went wrong, I would overextend myself, giving more than was reasonable and trying too hard.  Let’s call it the Kobe Bryant model.  In hindsight, these moments were times that I should have just backed down…”letting the game come to me.”  This personal reaction, driven often times by a lack of confidence, often hurt more than it helped.

Today, looking back, I am grateful for these experiences as they have helped me to be a better professional, leader and coach to my team.  I have a renewed commitment to “let the game come to me” and to help develop this skill in my team.  Thanks Phil.