Category Archives: professionalism

Do Not Reply

As I get older…and notice I did not say as I mature….I seem to be getting more petty and more flexible in equal parts.  I’m not yet the lady who is yelling at the children to get off her lawn, but then again I’ve not had any children on the lawn so I can’t be sure.  Truth be told, given the chance I just might be that lady.

I am the lady who thinks a lot of people are bad drivers and even though I almost accidentally ran a red light yesterday, I am not one of them.  I am also the lady who has had it up to here with all of the misplaced apostrophes (or should I say, apostrophe’s) and the lady who shudders at the thought of someone writing out a check in the grocery line.  Yep…I’m getting older…and that thing that happened to all those who aged before me seems to be happening to me, too.

So it’s no surprise that the workplace is a hotbed for a bevy of annoyances.  And the greatest of them all, perhaps, is the reckless abandon with which people use the Reply All function on their email.  I’ve thought about this for some time, and I’ve started to point it out to others as well.  Masqueraded as a part of polite society, Reply All is often nothing more than spam.  It was telling when I recently took a day off of work and took a firm stance that my work smart phone would stay at home.  After one day away from the office, I had 86 unread emails.  As I scrolled through them quickly, I realized that there were about a dozen that had information I really needed.  The rest were “thank you” or “OK” or “you’re welcome.”

So in light of this, I’ve started to muster up the courage to talk to my staff and tell them to stop and think before hitting Reply All.  Stop being so dang polite, stop feeling like you need to Reply All for much of anything, really.  Just stop it.  You’re slowing down our productivity.  I’ve even had fantasies of creating a way (or maybe there is a way?) to disable the Reply All function on some people’s email.  And then it happened.  I, the girl living in a glass house, was reminded why she can’t cast stones.  I became the biggest Reply All offender of all.

It was a Monday night after work and I was at safely at home, where I should have been minding my own business and doing something meaningful with my life.  But instead, I was paying more attention than I should be to my work smart phone (which is to say, I was paying attention to it at all.)  I wanted to ignore it, but the light kept blinking.  How can I ignore a blinking light?  Answer:  I cannot.

So my supervisor sent out an email to me and 25 other people – some of whom I know, some who I don’t, some who decide if I live to see another day at my job.  It was a big, widespread, influential group.  She immediately sent a second email just to me and one other close colleague and friend.  And you can probably guess where this is headed – I did a Reply All to the group of 25 instead of the group of 2.

The message I sent was cheeky.  It was meant to be endearing, a little sassy spunk to cheer up my supervisor who I knew had been having a rough day.  But to any reader other than her, it had a nice thick layer of anti-establishment snark imbedded right in the middle of it.  Trust me – it could have been a lot worse.  But it wasn’t exactly my finest moment, either.  It was not the sort of thing that promotions and professional accolades are made of.  I can forget about anyone erecting a statue in my honor now.

Of course I didn’t know what I had done until I hit send and 15 seconds later I got an out of office reply from someone on the list of 25.  My thought process went something like this:  “What?  Wait, WHAT?  OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?”  I cannot describe for you the panic that set in.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut, but the irony was that I was the one who threw the punch.  I spent about ten minutes frantically trying to discern if I could reasonably recall the email.  I then spent the next twenty minutes crafting a sincere and exasperated apology to my superiors who were part of the fateful 25 and were sure to not be impressed.  My apology was not enough, and it was also all I could do.

I spent a good day or so deeply resigned to a well-deserved spell of self-loathing, but the dust settled quickly. In time I was able to sit comfortably with my own ugly, awkward humanness.  The good news was, no one got hurt.  I still had my job, and I seemed to still have the respect ad admiration of the people who matter to me most.  And yes, I still had my Reply All function on my email, but you can bet I won’t be using it much anymore.


The Competitive Edge

At the risk of sounding like a crusty old crank – and let’s face it, it’s a descriptor that isn’t all too far off some days- the generations younger than me are getting more and more entitled.  Perhaps it is that they are the output of helicopter parents who structured every minute of their time (unlike my upbringing, which was of the “free range” variety), but I worry about our future knowing this is who we are relying on to care of us as we age.  I’m terrified, actually.

I’ve been watching the workforce get younger and younger over the years, while impressively I seem to remain the same age.  Funny how that happens.  I’m forced to contend with the fact that I have to hire, train, lead, inspire and develop this younger crowd.  It’s no small task, and there are days I wonder how I will manage to pull it off.

I would estimate that in my 24 years in the adult workforce, I have probably interviewed no less than a few hundred people.  Interviewing and hiring is actually my favorite thing to do, and arguably it’s what I do best.  I’ve often said – and I have sincerely meant – that the only important thing I have to do is hire well.  The rest will follow, and I know this because it’s been proven time and time again.  And so when I am in the midst of a search, which is honestly almost always, I take it very seriously.

Part of my strategy in hiring is to simplify what I am looking for.  That is not to say that I will simply accept anyone – quite the contrary, actually.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am famous for quipping that “I only hire stars.”  But how do you find a star, a proverbial diamond in the rough?  You find them by knowing exactly what matters.  And for me, I really only care about two qualities for any key candidate:  a positive attitude and an ability to learn.  That’s right, kids.  Yes, you have to have the right qualifications to get in the door.  But more letters behind your names or rings in your tree trunk won’t get you far with me.  Because truthfully, once we get you in the door we can teach you anything.  Almost anything, that is.  We can’t teach you how to have a good attitude or a desire to learn.

What I’ve noticed over the years, however, is a complacency -an entitlement I want to call it – that is disconcerting.  It’s as if no one really cares.  If I bring you in for an interview, I want you to treat it like it’s a big deal.  It’s like going on a blind date.  You are checking me out, and I am doing the same to you.  We have to establish if we could have a good thing going, if we should take this to the next level.

So now’s the part where you should sit up straight and listen.  Because it’s everyone’s favorite part – the part where I dispense unsolicited advice.  If you want a competitive edge in your job search, you don’t even have to work that hard.  This because no one is working hard.  So to stand out, you just have to be a little better than the rest.  My advice is this:  Dress one step above what you would wear to the job.  Show up five to ten minutes early.  Be polite to the receptionist.  Silence your cell phone.  Bring a folder with clear, crisp, perfectly formatted and spell-checked copies of your resume and your reference list.  Read the company website ahead of time and interject questions about company initiatives in the interview.  Come with a list of your own questions and make sure they aren’t just about things that are self-serving.  Be bold, but not arrogant, in selling yourself.  And, here is the one thing that will set you apart from almost everyone:  Send a thank you note within one day of the interview to everyone who was part of your interview process. I swear, give me a hand written note that makes me feel like it is your goal to be part of my team, and I’m practically a puddle. Because it almost never happens.

Now I’m guessing you just read all of my unsolicited advice, and you thought to yourself, “Well, duh.”  Well guess what?  Hardly anybody does all those things.  Remember that every decision you make in the interview process – which really isn’t that big of an investment of your time – is an opportunity to impress, or not.  Don’t be the girl that showed up to an interview with me with half (and only half) of her nail polish picked off.  I took one look at her and knew she was not of the star quality I was looking for.  It would have taken her one minute to clean up those nails with some polish remover and make them uniform and neat.  But when I saw the mish-mash of a mess on her hands – which was the only thing I could see –  I thought she either doesn’t care if the gets the job, or she’s so lacking in attention to detail she might not know the difference between Zantac and Xanax.  Next!

And believe it or not, that’s really how it happens.  You get one chance to make a first impression, and a whole series of chances after that to get it all right.  It’s all up to you.

Tripping on Power

I love my job.

I’m going to say it again, because it’s been a hard week for me to consistently believe it.  I love my job.  I LOVE MY JOB.  Ilovemyjob!  Wink! Smiley face emoticon!  Love it.

Sincerely and putting all kidding aside, I love many things about my job (and in spite of the challenges, this week was no different).  I love that I have had the opportunity to hand-select some of the most talented, dedicated, passionate people in this town to be part of my illustrious dream team.  I love that the people we serve have stories that shatter my heart into a million pieces and in the next turn meld it back together with unthinkable stories of warmth.  I love that no two days are the same.  I love that every day – every single day – I will be faced with a question or a problem that I don’t yet know how to solve, and yet nearly every time I somehow find a way to know in the end.  I love that I get to lead, to research, to write, to speak publicly, to work and play alongside an incredible community of providers.  It’s a job that lets me do all the things I love to do, while at the same time requiring me to do very few of the things I don’t.

Because part of my job (one of the parts I like least) includes helping to disperse a proverbial bag of money, there is a fair amount of power that comes with it. I’ve never cared for that part, that kind of power makes me uncomfortable in my own skin.  I don’t care for power.  Power is fueled by ego and there are few who can handle it with the required levels of grace and aplomb.  I suppose like any human being I have my own moments of unbridled narcissism, but I really do try to keep those moments in check.  I don’t need power, and you know why?

I don’t need power because I’ve got something much better.  I’ve got Influence. In the Changing the World family, Power is the drunken asshole brother who dropped out of community college, drives a big over-sized truck, wears Ed Hardy T-shirts and pokes fun at everyone in a way that isn’t fun at all. Influence, on the other hand, is the quiet, soulful, thoughtful brother  who got straight A’s, quietly led the debate team to conference championship and was kind to the kids everyone else was picking on.  Influence may not command as much attention as Power, but is infinitely more effective.  That is because Influence thinks with his heart.  And when you think with your heart, you simply aren’t reckless with the hearts of others.

So following a week that was harder than most, I remind myself of this: Influence is my friend.  Every feeling of positive regard I have for the people around me.  Every belief I have that the people we serve deserve equal footing in this world.  Every bit of positive energy I have to infuse into this world of mine. It’s all propelled by influence, and that is a beautiful, wondrous thing.

Smart Like a Golden Retriever

I’ve learned a whole lot of things professionally over the years, and one of them is this:  People at the top of the food chain can have some mighty fragile egos. I’m not sure why this is, but I promise you it is a true story.  I’ve been in the center of many insecurity-driven ego storms before, and if nothing else it has helped me to fine tune my diplomacy and validation skills.  Look, we all have insecurities, right?  To be successful, it is imperative to know how to best manage them – in yourself, and perhaps more importantly, in others.

There is a descriptor of a specific strategy of human interaction that refers to being “dumb like a fox.”  While that is all well and good, it seems to depict a cunning nature that is prone to trickery.  I’m not about that, because I do believe – naive though it may be – that authenticity is still the paved way to honorable success.  So instead of being dumb like a fox, I’ve decided that I want to be smart like a Golden Retriever.

I had a dog once who I had claimed was of the “big, dumb, yellow” variety.  He was actually half Golden Retriever and half Yellow Lab.  His name was Jethro, and he was 105 pounds of pure love.  It was impossible not to love Jethro.  He was happy, he was playful, he had an unbridled adoration for anyone in his midst.  No matter who you were, he liked you and he wanted to be around you and had only good thoughts of you.  It’s no wonder he was so universally loved by all. There was nothing not to like.

So I’ve decided that this Golden Retriever mentality – one of being pleasant, consistently loving, and maybe knocked down an intellectual notch or two – is really the way to disarm the fragile egos.  As I told my friend the other night, “Sometimes to be truly smart, you have to play a little dumb.”  That is very different than being dumb – I have no time for that.  But to display humility, to not need to be right all the time (even when you know you are), and to express an openness to learning from anyone who wants to teach you – that is the golden ticket, my friends.

And so, as much as I can, I am going to be just that.  I will be sitting faithfully by your side, wagging my tail, and hoping you will ask me to play.  I’m smart like that.

Every Little Thing

I was talking to a fellow colleague recently, and he told a story about how he landed a job for which he didn’t even yet meet the qualifications.  He applied on a whim out of sheer desperation, as he was jobless and had a growing family to support.  Much to his surprise, he got an interview and an almost immediate offer thereafter.  He didn’t fully understand what had happened until several months down the road.  He learned well after the fact that someone at his new place of employment had remembered him from a connection years prior.  He had been working as a Teaching Assistant at a local university, and she had called to express frustrations about the instructor for whom he was working.  They had a ten minute phone conversation that he could barely remember years later.  But apparently that ten minute conversation had been so comforting to the woman he now worked with, she had convinced the leader of her team he was a worthy hire – even without the proper credentials in place yet.


What happened thereafter is that this individual was hired, he quickly proved himself to his peers, and he was on the track for promotions and many other professional accolades.  Not only that, he confessed that he may have in fact landed himself in the most perfect place to match his professional skills and interests.  When he was in the midst of his job search, he had applied for other jobs that were a better match, at least on paper, and had been outright rejected without so much as an interview. He was grateful in retrospect for those rejections, because he could not imagine being any more passionate or fulfilled than he was at his current job.

Double wow.

There were many things that struck me about his story.  Certainly, there are lessons in karma and even the law of attraction in there, if you are into those sorts of things.  But on a more practical level, this occurred to me:  Every little thing we do matters.  I would say this is true personally and professionally, and this man’s story is a prime example.  An interaction he had years prior – an interaction where he had nothing to gain and nothing to prove – would catapult him into a perfect opportunity years later.  What if he had been hurried, dismissive, impatient or even distracted during that ten minute phone call?  The trajectory of his life could have changed.

It’s a lot of pressure to assume that every little thing matters, and yet it is not.  As my very wise friend recently pointed out, it is the difference between resolution and habit.  Good professionalism is a habit. My advice to you is this:   Be kind.  Be patient.  Be flexible.  Be helpful.  Be courteous.  And if you can’t do all that, take pause until you can.  You just never know how your choices will come back to you. Your consistently pleasant disposition may be the best insurance policy of all for your future.

Searching for My Inner Kenny Rogers

I’ve been told – quite a few times in my life, mind you – that I don’t have a poker face.  Truthfully, if someone is annoying me, everyone in the general vicinity will probably know it.  This does not fare well with my position of great responsibility.  It would be best if I could always be the consummate diplomat. It would be ideal if no one ever suspected my feelings of wanting to put hot pennies in my eyes because I am so blasted bothered.  It would be wonderful if I could always be perfectly wonderful. But….I can’t.

So I am working hard to dig deep.  I need to work on this, and today I just pointed out to someone else who I love and respect very much that they could stand to work on their poker face, too.  I’m thinking that maybe we could work on it together.  We could hold up pictures of people, places and things that send us reeling and practice not having a reaction.  (“Look – it’s a picture of someone eating baby carrots in a meeting – go!”)  We could grade one another on our poker face performances and give honest, unrelenting feedback. We could keep working at it until we get it right.

Because right now, truth be told, I feel like my inner Kenny Rogers is buried deep.  I know he’s in there, I just have to find him and nurture him and get him to the surface where he can see the light of day. Because Kenny?  Kenny knew what was up for real.

He knew when to hold ’em.

He knew when to fold ’em.

He knew when to walk away.

He knew when to run.

Word on the street is he also didn’t count his money when he was sittin’ at the table.

So you see, Kenny was one cool cat.  Kenny had it all figure out.  I could stand to be a lot more like him.  I’m going to keep searching for my inner Kenny Rogers until I find him.  I’ll let you know when that happens.

Transitions: A New Business Model

Working as a leader in a public sector system – a system that is highly scrutinized, no less – has had its benefits.  One of those benefits is fine tuning some skills that can only come from opportunities made of sweating brows, churned stomachs, wringing hands.  Maintaining good ego strength on days where there is no love to be found?  I’ve got that covered.  Entering a room filled with an angry mob and turning the energy around?  No problem.  Solving two, three, even four problems with one solution? I’m a master at it.  Smiling on the outside when I feel murderous rage on the inside?  Believe it or not, most days I’ve got that one tucked away somewhere, too.

The one skill I may have fine tuned the most, however, is that of delivering bad news.  I’ve thought about this skill quite a lot in the last few days because it’s everyone least favorite time of year – contract time. That’s right, it’s the time of year when agencies in our system learn their fate.  Will their business thrive or die?  Is it their time to shine, or is their day in the sun drawing to a close?  As a department, we have to deliver news to eager executives, and some of it is just no fun to deliver.  But that’s business, and if we are making and executing hard decisions, it also means we are being good stewards of the tax payers.  It truly is all in a day’s work.

So when you’ve built a career on the sad misfortune of expressing bad news, it would make sense to build further upon that skill.  Right?  So I present to you, the new business I am developing.  Please know, I invite your feedback for its worthiness and its possible applications.  It is my proud honor to share with you:  Transitions.

Welcome to Transitions.  Transitions is a business model built on doing your dirty work.  No, we aren’t a maid service.  We don’t come with Haz-Mat suits and we don’t do biohazard clean-ups.  Rather, we do your dirty work…of delivering bad news.

Have an under-performing employee who is sadly pathetic but needs to go?  Afraid to fire them because you know they have a slew of hungry children at home?  No problem.  Transitions will compassionately but decisively let them know they need to pack up their desk and move around.  We will stay on-site until they’ve assuredly left the building.

Need to back out of business with your partner who was also the best man in your first wedding? We’ve got it covered.  Your professional Transitions Team will pull the sad sack aside and let him know what’s what – and we’ll even deliver the papers your lawyer drew up for him, too.

Is it time to end that relationship that is literally on its last leg?  With just a quick phone call from you, you can arrange to have the Transitions van pull up to the house, ring the door bell, and let your future ex-girlfriend know “it’s not you, it’s me (which, in fact, is really you).”  For a small up-charge, we will even stick around to gather up your favorite hoodie, your Fleetwood Mac album, and your iPhone charger.

So there you have it:  Transitions.  “Let somebody else do the talking, while you do the walking.”

I think I could really be onto something here.

Smarty Pants

Michael Dell, entrepreneur and founder of Dell, once made the astute point, “Try never to be the smartest person in the room.  And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people…or find a different room.”

I sat in our conference room at work today and watched this incredible team I am part of dissect what it is we do and more importantly, where it is we are going.  Strategic planning and visioning for the future can be boring, and yet – not so much with these people.  Most days I am lucky if I can just keep up.  I surveyed the crowd and realized – then said aloud – that this team and its level of talent amazes me so much that I fear I might be bringing the average IQ down.  I did not mean that as an insult to myself – I have plenty of confidence about my own intellect – but I am telling you, these people are good.

The Behavioral Health Division is so frequently misunderstood it baffles me.  It is one of those things about working there that I’ve never gotten accustomed to.  There has been plenty of bad press over the years, some of it deserved and most of it not.  But if I could tell people one thing from an inside view that I am certain those on the outside don’t fully understand, it is how smart the people who work there are.  They read, they research, they do literature reviews, the analyze data, they study/understand/employ evidence-based practices, they make decisions based on a delicate balance of science and compassion, and – to give a nod to yesterday’s blog – they can solve a problem (or a thousand) like a motherfucker.

I left work today depleted, exhausted beyond belief and recognizing that is my absolute privilege to work on this most remarkable team.  Working there has with absolute certainty made me smarter, stronger, better.

I love not being the smartest person in the room.  I hope it is always that way.

You Can’t Un-ring a Bell

Working in the position that I do, I’ve had to learn a thing or two to survive.  My job has such high visibility and high stakes, there is little room for error.  People’s lives….their very fragile, complicated, unbelievable-at-times lives, mind you…depend on me to do the right thing in the right way at the right time, all the time. Because of this, I have to keep relationships vibrant and healthy, I have to walk fine lines, I have to find a way to like people even when I don’t at the moment.  It’s not always so easy.

Being a public sector employee is an interesting experience.  Don’t get me wrong – I love what I do.  I have an opportunity that few have ever had.  I get to help steer the course for an entire system that I am incredibly passionate about.  The most basic things I hold to be true – that we must be good to one another so that we can be good to our patients, that everyone deserves help, that much of the world is deeply hurting and we can change that with our compassion – get to be addressed in part through my actions and my vision.  It is a tremendous privilege.

And yet, and yet.  Being a public sector employee also means every day I have the potential to face very open criticism that comes through in some very vitriolic and irrational ways. I have spent more days feeling misunderstood, defensive, or downright disappointed in the last five years than I had cumulatively in the forty years prior. Strangely, I’ve become mostly immune to it.  I think it’s part of the deal, when you are paid for by taxpayers. Transparency is expected and rightly so. Diplomacy is the high road and the only acceptable path.  It’s actually kind of amazing that it only occasionally gets to me.

Given all of this, I’ve had to fine tune some very specific skills.  Patience. Understanding. Listening. Reading between lines. Stepping in.  Walking away. Giving in. Holding ground. And last, but certainly not least, waiting 24 hours to click “send” to ensure I don’t say anything I will later regret. Because as the blog title says, you can’t un-ring that bell.  The job has enough problems on its own; heaven knows I don’t need to create more for myself.

Every skill I’ve learned, every opportunity I’ve had, every mistake I’ve made and every sucker punch I’ve taken…I promise you this:  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  What I believe for sure is that I am making my corner of the world a better place.  Knowing that is what keeps my world right, even on days that feel all wrong.

Fist Bumps for Everyone

I endure the same slow, mundane drive to work every day.  I see the same landmarks, the same buildings, sometimes even the same people in the same cars.  I drive the same 26 minutes, five days a week, and even with a myriad of options, I almost always take the same route.  As I turn off of Wisconsin Avenue onto 92nd Street – the home stretch before I arrive at my second home – I see her in all her glory:  Fist Bump Lady.

Fist Bump Lady, who shall be known as FBL henceforth, is the crossing guard at a crosswalk that leads directly to the Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital.  Short, pleasingly plump, and with an ever-ready smile on her face, FBL never fails to deliver.  Sunny days are met with an extra spring in her step.  Rainy days are no bother, and why would they be when you’ve got a bright yellow slicker and sturdy galoshes?  Sleet and snow?  No problem, for FBL is ready for that, too.  I can’t say for sure that she has one of those stocking caps that looks like a panda bear, but she seems like the kind of person who would.  She is ready for any of the Wisconsin elements, and cheerfully so.

Person after person, professional after professional, doctor after doctor – all are greeted with the same degree of enthusiasm, and all are offered a fist bump to start their day off right.  A few outliers avert their eyes and rush past FBL.  Most accept the offer, and give FBL a smile and a hearty fist bump back.  A few other outliers have taken FBL under their wing, and bring her coffee or other treats (after a compulsory fist bump, of course.)  It seems that in the land of all things Froedtert, FBL has become the mascot for healing what hurts us.

I admire this woman, FBL, because of her consistency and her zest for life. I don’t know a single thing about her, other than what I have witnessed as I wait at the crosswalk day after day, eager to move ahead 2 more blocks and make the turn into my home-away-from-home parking lot.  But I do know this:  she has made happiness her priority and nothing is going to get in the way of that.  Not working a job most of us would not care to do. Not crappy Wisconsin weather, which is crappy too much of the time.  Not even the occasional hater.  No, no, no.  FBL has made a choice to be happy no matter what, and through her deeds shows us it is a choice we could all make.  Thanks for reminding us how to be in this world, FBL:  That whoever we are and whatever we do, we can always be of good cheer.