Thursday, December 29, 2016

Three words to live by

I suspect I am not the only one to be glad to see the back of 2016.  While there were a few personal highs – like the launch of my publishing company and a wedding party reunion, there were a lot of lows and some, like what’s happening with our friends south of the border, continue to be worrisome.

But I am an optimist by nature, and you have to focus on the best and on what will be positive in the year ahead. 

Many years ago I stopped doing New Year resolutions. Frankly they were a waste of time, as after the initial commitment, I forgot all about them.  Instead I started to come up with three words that I wanted to live my life by in the year ahead.

That strategy has worked well for me.  So drum roll please…. the words for 2017 are Listen. Learn. Love.  (I like alliteration).  Let me explain why those words as each has several reasons for being chosen.

Listen.  It is important to listen to those around you – your colleagues, clients, family and friends.  When you listen, you learn more and can be more effective as a leader.  But I also want to listen more to myself  - to trust my intuition and act on it, and to listen to my body when it tells me that I am working too hard.

Learn.   With starting a new business, there is a lot to learn and I want to be open to that learning, as I strive to be the best I can be.  So often I learn lessons the hard way, and even if that’s how I grasp the information, I want to pay attention and act accordingly.   I also want to remember and learn from past experiences, and say “no” when I need to, instead of trying to please everyone.

Love.  I only want to work on what I love to do, hang out with people that I like and love, and who in turn value and care about me.  I also want to spend more time with the people that I really care about and love deeply like my family and close friends.

These words are probably no different from previous years but I believe they are more intentional.  I almost feel this will be the “year of me.” After the deaths of family members and friends last year and other disappointments, I am determined to live my life in a way that matters most to me.

What words would you choose?  Reflect on your past year and focus on what you want for 2017.   Then make it happen.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Look at the View

I have been re-visiting some old favourites to add to our resource list for the Good Enough book, and came across this small, tiny gem A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen.

I’ve always been a fan of Anna Quindlen after hearing her speak at a conference in Chicago.  At that time, she’d just finished writing Living Out Loud and she shared the story of how one of her readers had contacted her to say how disappointed she was that Anna had chosen to send her children to child care. 

As Anna joked how on earth could she have written her book with her kids underfoot?  I loved how she was real and practical.  This was back in 1988, a time when being authentic had yet to be valued.

As I opened the book I read the inscription from a girlfriend who’d bought it for me for my birthday back in 2002.  So much has happened since then - starting Company of Women, a double mastectomy and a move to the farm.  What hasn’t changed is Anne and I are still good friends and the message in this book still rings true.

Anna Quindlen observes that we all have so much, yet we take it for granted.  It is not, as she shares, until something drastic happens in our lives – in her case the death of her mother at age 40 – that we realize how fragile it all is.

Quindlen talks about what she is proud of in terms of her parenting, marriage and friendships and ends each description with the same line “I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.”   It’s that simple

Life is made up of moments she shares, it is not a dress rehearsal, so we need to enjoy each day as it comes, pay attention to the small things like the way the sun shines on the snow, the freckles on your child’s face.  Enjoy the wonder of it all.

One of her biggest lessons she learned was from a homeless man she met on the beach.  It was freezing outside, with the wind whirling around as she talked to him. As they looked out at the sea, she asked him why he didn’t go to a shelter.  His reply?   “Look at the view.”

When was the last time you looked at the view?  When did you last notice the small wonders around you?  It seems like a timely message as we gather together to celebrate the holidays. 

Look at the view.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

'tis the season to give

As we inch our way towards Christmas, I seem to be in party mode, with lunches here, dinners there. And inch may be the appropriate word, as I can feel the inches being packed on as I eat my way through the holiday season.

But that aside, what I am enjoying is spending time with friends, some of whom I haven't seen for some time.  It has been wonderful to catch up, share a few laughs.. and a few drinks as we get ourselves into the festive mood.

Relationships have been all important to me this past year, not that they weren't before, but I have come to realize that it is my relationships that feed me, but like a garden, they need to be watered from time to time if they are to survive. And sometimes what you thought was a flower, was in fact a weed.  Then you have to decide if it is pretty enough to stay or should be removed.

Several friends and family have lost a loved one this year, making this Christmas especially hard, and my thoughts and virtual hugs are with them, as I am not nearby to do so personally.  The firsts are really hard - the first birthday, the first Christmas, the first anniversary.  

So as we gather to celebrate the season, let's remember those for whom this is not the wonderful time we have come to enjoy ... and yes, expect.  Let's take a moment to reflect on what it must be like for the refugees who have made Canada their home but are far away from their war torn country where they still have family; the homeless who are outside in this bitter cold weather, and those who can't give their children the Christmas they would like because they just can't afford it.

Donate.  Drop a few dollars into the Salvation Army kettle as you pass by at the mall. Be generous.

Wishing you all a happy holiday season.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

2016 - Lessons learned

My year at a glance...

 I think I started 2016 in retirement mode.  I’d just turned 65 and it seemed time to hand over the reigns and with that mindset I started the year looking at transition, at moving on.   But that was not to be  and now as 2016 comes to a close, I’ve got my mojo back and am raring to go for another season. 

Life is fragile.  I learned this at the beginning of the year when our 32 year old nephew-in-law died of cancer.  Far too young and far too soon.  

We wrapped up the year with the sudden death of my colleague and friend Diane McGee.  Both deaths serve to remind me that life is short and to focus on what you want to do.

When it is important, people show up.   On the worst snowstorm of the season it was the launch date of the One Red Lipstick book.  We had 80 people registered and four speakers who were travelling a distance. Over 60 folks turned up, as well as all four speakers.

Be a role model.  The message behind One Red Lipstick is that we need to step up and be role models for the generations behind us.  We often don’t realize the wisdom we can share.  I’ve since signed up to be a mentor in a couple of programs.

People come into your life for a reason. Pay attention.   Learn what you need to learn, give what you can give. Enjoy the relationship and make the most of your time together.  

Never say never.   I had declared to myself that our conference (the 10th) would be my last one.  Well that lasted about a day after the event and then I got into gear to plan the conference for 2017.

You don’t know what you don’t know. Especially when you start a new business.  Launching Full Circle Publishing has been an exciting and humbling experience. It’s not easy to be back in the beginner’s seat.

Be careful what you wish for.  Full Circle Publishing was to be my “retirement” project – something I could do from anywhere and which I could manage in terms of size.  In three months we have published five books, with more in the wings.

Smiling can take you a long way.  On our trip to Nova Scotia we received such great customer service.  People took an interest in you, smiled and were happy to be helping you. 

Read the small print.  When you go over documents quickly you can miss important stuff, which can cost you money. And it did.

Laughter is good medicine.   By co-incidence we had our best man and bridesmaid staying with us in time for our 44th wedding anniversary. We spent an amazing weekend together.  I don’t think any of us have laughed so much in years.  By far the highlight of the year.

Be pragmatic.  When your plans fall through, while disappointing at the time, you need to come up with Plan B and move on. Wallowing in what could have been doesn’t get you too far.  Plus who knows, maybe Plan B is better.

Delegate. It’s not all about me.   I am excited about 2017 – we have some new programs in the works.  I’ve learned this year to delegate and I intend to do more of that in the year ahead.  It’s only taken me 14 years to realize I don’t have to, nor should I do everything!

That’s it.  A month by month take on my year. 

It’s been a busy one – and the one constant is relationships, because it’s the relationships we have with our family, friends, colleagues and customers that can make or break our businesses.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

When you lead well, people will follow

I recently attended the retirement party of a friend and former colleague, Mary Beth.  Over 150 people turned out to bid her farewell.   She had been running her department with a large team for over 17 years, mainly with the same management team, which speaks to her leadership skills.  

How did she do that?  Well from my observations, she consistently worked with integrity.  She cared about her staff, the parents and children who came under her domain.  She treated everyone with respect and valued other people’s opinions, even when they contradicted her own beliefs.  And maybe most important of all, she had a great sense of humour and loved to have fun.

So as a leader or manager, how can you achieve this?

Take an interest in your team
One of her managers told me that she spent the first one-on-one meetings with her answering questions about herself, her family and her goals.  She was surprised and had expected that they’d leap right into business and talk about the issues.  Get to know the people who are working with you.

Ask questions
This is one that I observed myself.  When one of the staff would have a challenge and come to her for help, instead of giving her an answer, she’d throw it back at the staff member and ask what she thought was the solution.  What would she advise?  

She didn’t make herself out to be the expert, the keeper of all solutions.  Instead she encouraged her employee to think for herself and at the same time, conveyed that she was respected and her opinion valued.

Be inclusive
It can be all too easy, especially in government, to take a silo approach to solving problems or getting a project off the ground.  By that I mean that often departments get somewhat territorial about what falls under their domain, and so they don’t reach out and involve others, they hold the reigns of power and control tight.

My buddy, on the other hand, was always quick to invite others to the table, recognizing that there was strength in involving others and bringing in fresh perspectives.  Early on she started a multi-disciplinary network that included many players from different sectors, and to this day, it works well, always putting the needs of children first.

Party time
Maybe it was because she worked with children, but there was always some party or gathering in the works, so that staff could come together and have fun.  It was a chance to play and let go some of the stresses of the work.

And clearly she’d taught them well as the animated video her management team produced to say goodbye and pay tribute to her, was clever and funny as they poked fun at themselves.  They were following her lead as she’d given them permission to play and laugh while on the job.

After an illustrious career spanning over 40 years, Mary Beth’s retirement is well earned.  She has led the way and now the mantle has been handed over. 

While her colleagues will miss her, I actually gain – because now she will have time for that breakfast we kept promising to have. 

Now we get to play.