Self-Fulfilling Prophecy September

self-fulfilling

It’s the first day of October! I have officially made it through September, a little bruised and definitely tired, but it’s over. My favorite month is here and oddly enough, it was like my motivation returned to me as soon as the realization hit me. At some point in the last hour, as I was going through our morning routine: kibble for the animals, coffee for me; I wondered how much I played into my awful September.

For a long time, September was an easy month. Possibly even exciting. It brings the transition to fall, new school supplies, a fresh start, cooler weather, and a little more structure. All things I enjoy. In my role as a trainer, September was always slower – parent programming slowed because of the start to school, and teachers are focused on their classrooms, not professional development. As the manager of the program, September means, the end of the fiscal year. There’s a budget to balance, usually money to spend, planning for next fiscal year, usual programming to manage, processes to put into place, and just an overall feeling of stress as we wind down one year and ramp up for the next.

My first September as a manager hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t expecting the shift from an easy thirty days, to a crazy thirty days. Maybe it was just my inexperience, I thought, I’ll get the hang of it. My second September was miserable. We were going through a program evolution with our funder and I didn’t know which way was up, none of us did. A collective sigh of relief came on October 1st, 2015. I figured it couldn’t get any worse, September 2016 will be a breeze.

As this September approached, I lost my positive attitude and knew I had a fight coming my way – both literally and figuratively. My hesitation grew, my stress took over, and inevitably started affecting me physically. By the middle of the first week, I was knee deep in hatred for what was to be the next 25 days. From then on, every little thing that happened was magnified and contributed to September. Stub your toe? Damn, September! Feeling under the weather? It’s because it’s September. Bad hair day? COME ON, SEPTEMBER!

At what point was I the one that made September awful? Probably around September 1st. I never gave it a chance. I stayed in my unmotivated bubble and slugged along until this morning. I slept in a little later, woke up to our 48th hour of rain, and a text conversation with my traveling husband. In the middle of our conversation I realized it was October first and I screamed with a giant smile on my face. It was over. It’s officially my favorite month of the year! Maybe September wasn’t so bad after all…

Nope, it was awful.

But we’re moving on. We’re moving on to a month of cooler weather, apples, cider, fall beer, warm food, sweaters, boots, colorful leaves, open windows, pumpkins, blankets, hockey, breast cancer awareness, new tv shows, and good hair days.

It’s October and that is awesome!

5 Easy Team Building Activities You Can Implement Today!

The Corner Office (3)

Working in a leadership role 40 hours a week means that I am responsible for creating a productive, motivating, and engaging atmosphere for the team of people that work underneath me. This, by far, has been one of the bigger challenges in my managerial career. With a variety of personalities and responsibilities, team building becomes difficult and can sometimes seem as extra work, something that you’re doing outside of your general responsibilities. The funny thing, team building is a huge part of your responsibilities as a manager, it is part of your job to ensure your team feels like they can accomplish their goals with the group of people they work with. It’s a tall order for sure.

In my [not so] extensive experience, I have found a few strategies that work for me that don’t seem like a ton of extra work. Sometimes it forces me to think outside of my comfort zone, but I suppose that’s part of the experience as well.

[WEEKLY TEAM MEETINGS] Previously, I used team meetings for very little OTHER than going through an agenda of to-do lists, updates, and planning sessions. I had tried a variety of frequencies – monthly, bi-weekly, as needed, etc. Eventually, I realized that these team meetings were the only time that we were all together and they had much more potential than just program updates. Weekly Monday Jumpstart Meetings were born. Now, every Monday morning my team comes together to share a few different things. Our standard agenda includes:

  • A view of the program calendar for the week ahead
  • How was your weekend?
  • What did you work on last week?
  • What are your projects and goals for this week?
  • Program Updates/Tasks

When we have time, I develop additional team building activities within the meetings. Most recently, we went through a Strengths-Based Leadership assessment and I developed a two-session series to discover their strengths and how it impacts their ability to work together as a team.

[MONDAY E-MAILS] Before weekly Jumpstart meetings were developed I started sending Motivational Monday E-mails. An e-mail sent early on Monday morning (usually) that includes inspirational quotes, a round up of weekly tasks, pictures, and three things I am grateful for. Two years ago, after watching a TED talk, my time decided that they wanted to adopt an “Attitude of Gratitude” so each week we list the 3 things that we are grateful for. I start it off in the Monday e-mail and throughout the week they hit “Reply All” to share their three things as well. Recently, I included 3 Things I am Excited About, by starting off the week thinking about what we are grateful for and excited about, it seems we are more prepared to hit the ground running in a positive way.

[FORCED FAMILY FUN DAYS] In college I went on a few mission trips, every night we had devotional time that usually included what was called “Forced Family Fun”. Time that we spent together doing different activities, sharing with each other, and enjoying our time together. I stole that idea and a few times a year, I take my team away from the office and we spend an afternoon doing something out of the ordinary and fun as a team. Over time I stepped away from planning each afternoon, and at this point each of my team members have planned their own Forced Family Fun afternoon. We’ve watched movies, always eat a ton of food, gone to the apple orchard, visited Belle Isle, art therapy, and we always end each afternoon with writing cards to each of our teammates for them to read when they get home. I always let them leave early, and I always feel a little recharge after a fun afternoon with my team.

[TEAM BOOK CLUB] A few times a year someone on our team will pick a book for everyone to read, we spend some of our Jumpstart time talking about the book content and how we think it relates to our work. We’ve read several books as a team, some great and insightful, some were agreed to be not so great. I have found that reading books together gives the team a foundation of common language and understanding on how they relate to one another.

[ASSESSMENTS] Not assessments of their performance, however we do those as well. Personality and Stregths-Based assessments have come in handy to help increase that foundation of common language and understanding I mentioned above. I have used the Stregths-Finder 2.0 and Strengths-Based Leadership books on several occasions, and will be doing the DiSC Assessment with them in the fall. Giving them the opportunity to learn about themselves and sharing that with each other gives insight to how we work as a team and how our personality traits may influence how we interact with people.

And there you have it! My top five team building activities that I use with my team on a regular basis. They aren’t full-proof and may not work for every team, but for the time being they are working for me.

For more of my posts on leadership and “the work” go here.

May the odds ever be in your favor.

Leadership Lessons

The Corner Office (3)

I like to think that I am good at what I do. I have been working in my field for over nine years, I still have a lot to learn and new skills to develop but I get the work. I strive to do the best that I can for myself, the organization I work for, and the people we serve. As an independent team member I excelled at knowing my role, doing it well, and creating new opportunities to extend my work. As I moved up the ranks from Lead, to Supervisor, to Manager my ability to do all of those things diminished and I was, once again, put in the position to refine my skill set.

Four years into my professional non-profit career I was promoted to Supervisor. I was, for the first time, responsible for the team doing the work instead of actually doing the work myself. I was out of my element, terrified, and cocky. Having been working in the program I was now supervising for two years already, I thought I was fully equipped to be responsible for the program. Looking back now, as my sixth anniversary in this organization looms, I was so incredibly naive and had no idea what it meant to be a leader.

I went through some growing pains. I hired new staff, made some programmatic changes that I thought were important, and tried to define myself as a leader. The problem was, I thought being a leader was all about me. How I did things, what I needed, and how I wanted things to be done. In reality, it’s just the opposite. While I was responsible for the direction and implementation of the program, I had to ensure that my team had a voice and were invested in what we were doing. A lesson I definitely learned the hard way.

I am, by far, not done learning how to improve my ability to lead a team of people, but I feel as though I have shifted my focus and am more confident in my ability to excel in my role. Recently, while cleaning out some of my files at work I came across a document that changed a lot for me as a supervisor. It was an exit interview from a former employee, someone that I had a lot of conflict with. She was young, inexperienced, overconfident, and not right for the role she was in. My inexperience as a supervisor resulted in a lack of support in helping her build off of her strengths and allowing her to find her own comfort zone in her work. Instead I tried to mold her into the professional I thought I was the year before. When she got frustrated she became disengaged and her disengagement made me lose interest in helping her invest in herself as a professional. When she decided to leave for another organization, I was relieved. It was not the right situation for either of us. Our relationship was strained and no longer productive.

A few months later I was asked to come to my boss’ office. She had a document she wanted to discuss with me. It was the exit interview. We talked about what was true, what was fabricated, what was out of context and she asked me how I felt about it. At first I was frustrated and incredibly angry, and ultimately sad and embarrassed that those words were out there somewhere being used to influence the people I work with, and work for. Over time I realized that the words on the paper were her truth, no matter how inaccurate I thought they were, no matter how I saw the situation and our relationship, this was her version of everything. In the moment that I realized that, I felt bad for her. That this was the version of me that she got to work with. Not that I would do anything differently at the time, but that I hadn’t built up my skill set enough to think of other ways to support her and work with her. I suppose that’s part of the process of becoming a leader. Unfortunately, it’s a trial by fire, learn as you go role.

So, when I stumbled upon that that exit interview that was shoved in with all of my personal paperwork in my filing cabinet, I re-read it and realized it no longer stung as much as it had before. I had new skills, I learned from my mistakes, and I had made peace with the fact that we walked away with two different versions of truth. That was her version and she was entitled to it. I took a moment to appreciate the lesson and tossed it in the trash with the rest of my unwanted clutter.

Shortly after I took on this new role, almost three years ago, I wrote a post about some of the lessons I had learned in my short time as the program supervisor. Those things all still remain true, however I’ve added a few over the years.

Establishing boundaries with your staff is important. Spending 40 hours a week with people can cause relationships to form that seem more personal than professional. You bond with the people that you relate to and that support you. It’s natural. However, as the person responsible for the team dynamics, the programmatic structure, and the work, it’s imperative to remain unbiased, and objective. I’ve had to figure out how I can tread the line and ensure that professionalism remains the thread that runs throughout all I do. Pulling myself out of the social aspect of our work to solidify boundaries was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my professional career. It’s isolating and lonely, but it forced me to build better relationships with my peers and has provided a foundation for me to be able to do my job objectively and completely.

Build opportunities for your own professional growth. Don’t just become stagnant in your role and your skill set. Build opportunities for you to learn, to build your skills, and find a more seasoned professional to help point you in the right direction. Challenge yourself and be purposeful with your time. Don’t allow the tedious nature of administrative responsibilities force you into a work life of boredom. Remember your goals for yourself.

Take time for yourself. Go home at the end of the day and be present in your family life. Take a break throughout the day to recharge and regroup, learn to say no, take your vacation time, and shut off your work brain once you walk out the door.

Leading looks different for everyone. You have to find what works for you and the group of people you’re responsible for. Tactics change, strategy shifts, and motivation fluctuates. Remain flexible in your methods and take the lessons when you can. It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it.

High Five for Friday: Finally!

It’s a beautiful day today! The sun is shining, the temperature is about 68 degrees and I was able to spend my Friday afternoon working from my office at home after our semi-annual agency all-staff meeting. It was a good week and I’m ready for a good weekend to follow it, I hope you’re feeling accomplished after your week as well! Let’s hop to it!

5.20

  1. I’m starting to get some of my mojo back at work, which has really relieved some anxiety. Going back to work, after taking 9 days off to move, I felt so lost and unmotivated (read about that here). I spent some time starting a few projects, had some motivating conversations, and finally felt like I’ve been getting myself into a manageable routine. That’s a win if I’ve ever heard of one!
  2. Justin had his third infusion this week. Our schedule left us with a four hour window in between his check-in with the doctor and his infusion appointment but we had lunch and I worked a from my laptop. It’s incredibly reassuring that he is reacting really well to this medication. The bone marrow transplant is looming around the corner but for now it’s nice to see him start to feel better. The people we have built relationships with through the clinical trial are all amazing too, incredibly awesome people.
  3. My team is working on a pilot program right now, we are attempting to build a customized training model and we had our first participant meeting on Wednesday. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but every participant had nothing but positive things to say and were so excited about the direction we’re going. I found myself writing down almost every word they were saying so I could remember it as I’m planning.
  4. Stephanie invited me to introduce myself to her blog Making Time for Me by guest posting on Tuesday. I was so honored that she asked and actually loved the piece that I ended up writing. Thank you Steph for asking me to share myself with your community!
  5. Between participating in the Kindness Challenge, Guest Posting on Stephanie’s blog, and finding new bloggers to follow I had 11 new followers this week! I got so excited every time I got a new notification in my WordPress app! I also hit my 100th post this week (it was technically the post I wrote for Stephanie) – I can’t believe I’ve had 100 posts worth of stories to share and can’t wait for the next 100!

Throwback Thursday: My Lost Motivation

TBT

I have been feeling a little lost at work lately, unmotivated and aimless. I am going through a time of strategic planning, trial and error, and thinking about how to better structure a program that has been functioning for seven years. Usually, I thrive in these types of transitions. With everything else going on in my life recently, I seem to be weighed down by it. Instead of finding the excitement in my open calendar, office supplies, and brainstorming sessions, I’m finding that I am exhausted by them. I have a desire to be busy, to keep myself moving at a pace that doesn’t allow me to stop and think about what’s going on around me. Apparently, this is what happens when I finally get some time to rest: I miss the chaos.

I’ve been looking for my motivation, desperately looking for some inspiration that would give me the push to get it together. I haven’t quite found it yet, but I remembered writing this post a couple of years ago shortly after I had made the transition from team member to program supervisor. I set off in the early morning hours in search of inspiration and I found it. Here’s hoping the inspiration I’ve been on the hunt for surfaces soon.

I’m throwing it all the way back to October 2013 today with my post A Great Freaking Day!

 

A Spiral-Bound Nerd Alert

My friend Heather calls me boxy. This is how she describes Type A, borderline OCD people that try to fit her ameba-self into a neat little box. Bow and all. We compliment each other well, I shove her, kick and screaming, into the little box and she pushes me to be more outgoing and break out of my “boxiness”.

You could assume that my personality would manifest itself in a way that would leave me tied to some sort of planning device or implement. I have struggled with finding a process for keeping a calendar or planner since graduating from college. Somehow, I never really found a way to organize my personal and professional life in a concise and efficient way. I’ve owned more planners than I can count in the last ten years but have always lost interest in them shortly after I’ve started using them. I’ve never really found the right mix of customization, open-space, or fluidity where a planner was actually helpful. I always felt like I was working too hard to make them keep me organized. In the drawer they would go, and off to the store I would go to replace the latest model. I have purchased two custom planners in my life, both from a company called Plum Paper. My original planner was pretty, but I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to customize it and started with the idea that I would also use it as my notebook for all meetings and brainstorming. I quickly lost interest in the planner aspect of the book and eventually felt the material was too high-quality to use as a brainstorming notebook. I always felt guilty when I used up page after page to doodle, cross out, and write gibberish. So, sadly, eventually, even my custom-made planner ended up making it to the drawer in my office where my unused office supplies go to die. Full on boxy.

As the whirlwind that is my life started to pick up over the last two months I found that I needed something that I could use to organize both my personal and professional life. It needs to be functional, attractive, balance the line between and hourly schedule and open blocks for each day, and give me enough structure so I know where to go for each part of my life. I’m a high maintenance planner user.

Some might ask: “It’s 2016, why aren’t you just using the calendar on your phone?”

I do, for the day to day details and meetings for work. I still can’t get it to work for me beyond that, I continue to feel the need for something I can hold and write in at a moment’s notice.

Now, some might say: “Lady, you’re nuts!”

To that, I would say: “Certainly.”

I am well aware that me high maintenance nature when it comes to planners, and other office supplies frankly, is a little crazy and irrational. We can address that on another day.

While putzing around on Instagram a few weeks ago, I came across a discount code from Plum Paper that would save me 20% on a custom planner. Curious, I went to their site to check it out and kill some time. I found that their original “Family Planner” had now transitioned into a “Life Planner” – a weekly planner with 7 customizable categories per day. The set-up is essentially the same as they were a couple of years ago, but this time the idea of using each of those boxes for different aspects of your life instead of just the different PEOPLE in your family sparked some inspiration in me. I spent another thirty minutes browsing cover art and customization options and eventually hit “PLACE ORDER”.

I’ve only just started to use my new Life Planner, but I can already tell that I am gaining the ability to organize my personal and professional life in a way that makes me feel structured but not tied down to an hourly schedule. That in itself is an accomplishment!

image1For my fellow boxy people, here’s a tour inside of my new Plum Paper Life Planner!

First, I love the new watercolor patterns they have available! There are a couple of different versions, but the black was the most attractive to me. My original cover was a chevron pattern that looks like wood. I loved it, but didn’t opt to have a monogram or anything written on the bottom of the planner. After going over several options in my head, I chose my first and middle name for my new planner. It felt more personal and like I had some ownership over the book.

The planner is broken down by month – you get to choose the month your planner starts and have several options in terms of months included. I went with 12, let’s face it, that is a long time for me to use a planner. I’m shooting for a fully utilized planner next March!

Each month also includes a highlights page, there is room for three goals, important dates, birthdays, events, etc. In true boxy fashion, I have yet to decide how I want to use that page each month. I’m not one that sets “goals” lightly so that will take some time to figure out. I do, however, appreciate the space to do some monthly planning amongst my day to day planning!

The weekly pages are broken down into seven customizable categories, I chose:

  • Don’t Forget – My Top Tasks for the Day
  • Morning – My Schedule for the Morning, usually anything before 12pm
  • Afternoon – My schedule for the afternoon, usually anything from 12 – 5pm
  • Evening – My schedule for the afternoon, anything after 5pm
  • Home – Any “Life” tasks or items that I need to remember. Bills to pay, pet meds to administer, chores to do, etc.
  • Blog – Posts for that day or tasks related to this blog
  • Justin – Typically for Justin’s schedule, this has been helpful for doctor appointments

There are a lot of features to this planner that I love and very few that I am not so crazy about. I wish it was a tad bigger, I don’t necessarily want it to be 8 1/2 x 11 but maybe just a little larger than it is. I’m a big writer. Wednesday is always BY FAR, my least favorite day to fill out on a planner, typically that day is so close to the spiral that I have a hard time writing – I’ve found a strategy around that for the most part, but some extra room on the left side of the spiral would be helpful. I do love the tabs, the colors are light but vibrant and very well reinforced. They seem to be sturdy enough to stand up to a year’s worth of (ab)use. Secondly, I love that they gave some suggestions on how to customize the seven categories, I never would have thought to pick anything other than sections of time. I LOVE that I have sections for my life that are not restricted by hours as they would be in a traditional planner. Last, but certainly not least, I loved the pattern detail on the monthly pages. It just was a prime example of the little artistic details that went into designing these planners.

After a whole five days of using the Plum Paper Life Planner, I am hooked! I’m hopeful that I will keep finding ways to make this tool work for me on a daily basis and that I will have finally found a strategy aimed at establishing a work-life balance…at least where my planner is concerned.

My People: The Conscientious Cs

As a manager at the organization I work for, I am considered a member of what is called the Program Leadership Team. We are a group of higher level staff that are responsible for programming within our organization. This team has gone through many transformations over the last three years, the most recent of which is a professional development vessel for leadership at our organization. This was the most requested use of our monthly meeting time, as our usual “what’s going on in your world” focus really was not of benefit to anyone in the room. Good in theory, not in execution.

As our first professional development training, we were each to take the DiSC personality profile assessment. Each member of a group, or team, responds to series of words “as most like” their personality, to “least like” their personality. We were told to complete the assessment based on their personality AT WORK. The actual assessment took less than 15 minutes, as per usual, some of the series of words really stumped me, having very little gravitation as to where I should rank them. Our next step was to turn in our assessment and we would receive the results with everyone else at our next meeting.

I never put a lot of stock in these kinds personality tests, I’ve always felt that some of them are purposely vague and hard to complete just to make you think you’re finding new, profound characteristics of your personality for the first time.

“Oh wow, I like control?!?! Shocking! Oh wow, I am not a people person?? That explains it! How lucky I am that this personality assessment has taught me all of these things about myself!”

Slightly cynical, but I digress.

So, in the March meeting I was sitting, almost forgetting that the majority of our time will be spent on group activities meant to engage us on our new found personality traits. I was handed back my assessments and as our group leader was talking I poked around my results. I was labeled a C – a Conscientious person.

DiSC Image

“A person places emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.”

Behaviors include:

  • Enjoying independence
  • Objective reasoning
  • Wants the details
  • Fears being wrong

 

I laughed out loud. I real, literal LOL.

I wasn’t surprised, but rather impressed that this assessment accurately described my “at work” personality, which if we learned anything from the behaviors of a conscientious “C”, we know that made me happy.

The room was broken down into the four categories, D (Dominant), I (Influence), S (Steadiness), and my people, the Conscientious Cs. We went through a series of group activities, each solidifying that I was sure I was in the right group and that the rest of the categories were ranked appropriately for my personality. CDSi. That’s me.

Usually, my engagement in this kind of content would stop there. The meeting and conversation ends and I go about my daily life. For some reason, given the current events of my world, I can’t shake the fact that a couple of these traits are more dominant than others. I have a fierce need to be independent, not necessarily physically on my own all of the time, but I thrive on my ability to do things for myself, to accomplish things, solve problems, and put the puzzle pieces together. I want the details and to create the logical path toward a solution. It’s how I function at my core. Occasionally, this can manifest itself in what looks like control issues, but really, the foundation of what looks like a need for control is really just a need to put the puzzle pieces together.

I struggle with asking for help, not because I am prideful or because I don’t appreciate generosity, but because I look forward to the opportunities to build a solution and move forward. As I’m sure you can imagine, the current path my life has taken has forced me to ask for help from others, or better put: to accept help from others. I continue to struggle with it each and every day. I’m grateful, I appreciate every ounce of support, both emotionally and financially, that comes our way but it also takes away my opportunity to build a solution for myself. It’s an odd thing to try and explain. Inevitably, I come off as withdrawn, critical, and ungrateful, when really I just want to approach the situation like I would any other: to gather the information, devise a logical and well thought-out plan, and put it into action. It’s how I function, for better or for worse.

Over the last few months I have been asked, countless times, how I could possibly be at work concentrating on the day to day responsibilities of my position. Most of the time, I just chuckle and say something along the lines of:

“At some point, you just keep going.”

But it’s become clear to me. Work allows me to utilize the core of my personality. I am able to keep things consistent, I have some element of control, and solve problems. It’s 75% of what I do all day long. I strategize on how to move forward. It’s what I love to do. I’m good at it and people rely on that aspect of my personality. It’s true, at some point, you just keep going. It helps if you are doing something that allows you to fulfill your need to feel confident and productive. Work is a form of support in itself and I’ll take all of the support I can get.

“When I write my political memoir, this will be the character building funny part.” – Josh Lyman, The West Wing