Keep Calm and Carry On


What would you do with your last three weeks on earth? If you knew the date certain for your departure, how would you spend your remaining time?  Would your answers change if you knew it was not only your last three weeks, but also the last three weeks of earth? Everyone, everywhere is in on the last big send off.

These questions are explored in a new movie Seeking a Friend for the End of The World.  The film illustrates deep insights into human nature, because it strips us down to who we really are when we think there is little left to gain or lose. It caused me to reflect on our behavior in difficult times, with challenges far less final.

“Normal” has a strong gravitational pull

Even with the certainty of three weeks of Earth left, people wanted to maintain “normal.” Not only did they go to work, they had staff meetings.  Police officers ticketed speeders. Domestic help showed up on Wednesday. The friendly wait staff at the franchise food place sang “Happy Birthday.” As any of you who have tried to institutionalize organizational change know, the allure of “normal” is a powerful barrier to change.

The pull of “normal” can squash a true value of disruption: Innovation. As Jeremy Gutsche, author of Exploiting Chaos, reminds us, “normal never returns.” Once disruption has happened, things never return to the way they were. They settle and we figure them out. Or, the brilliant   see possibilities to create something better out of the destruction of the past. They follow Albert Einstein’s rule: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Our values always show up

With nothing left to lose and nothing to gain that’s going to last, characters in the movie were stripped bare to reveal what was really important to them.  The hedonists indulged, the selfish took, the cowardly ran (to where?), the diligent worked, and the caring cared. There was no one left to impress, no one left to manage. In the end, who they were was who they were.

It seems to me that values also show up in our extreme times, when there is the most to gain or the most to lose. Or, when there are no rules except self-governing ones. If I were ever in the situations to make hiring decisions again, understanding someone’s values would be the most important information I could get. The Motives, Values and Preferences Report from Hogan Leadership Series Forecast would be a requirement. I can figure out how to leverage strengths. I can figure out how to develop or mitigate weaknesses.  But what governs someone’s behavior when they think nothing matters is everything that matters to me.

Find More Gratitude and Joy

It’s no surprise that there was little joy on Earth with three weeks left; except among the hedonists. But what did surprise me was the extent of misery and bitterness people held onto until the end. In one scene, a character is asked how she’ll spend her remaining two weeks. She revealed her plans to drive across country to tell her stepfather to “F” off. Really? You both have two weeks left and you’ll spend them so the last words he hears from you are “F” off? Have you ever heard of “let it go?” Aside from this extreme example, there was only one character with an authentic sense of joy in the end. But, you’ll have to see the movie to know who and why.

It doesn’t take any more chaos than a bad day to show our propensity to focus on the negative and miss the joy in each day. (And yes, I resemble this remark.) Think of what we tell people about a bad day. We recount in detail the incompetence, laziness, selfishness and general cluelessness that diminished our brilliance. But seldom do we recall the smile and hug from a loved one, the extra mile effort of a co-worker, encouragement from a friend, and the contributions of strangers that make our productivity possible. And, the fact that we’re here to describe our day in lurid detail. We forget about that, too.

The film reminded me of how I did not want to end, by recounting every misdeed done to me. Maybe that’s good practice for ending each day, too.


Gutsche, Jeremy (2011). Exploiting Chaos: 150 Ways to Spark Innovation During Times of Change. Self Published.

Hogan Leadership Forecast Series information

The People Who Could


Slowly, the cars began to move. Slowly, they climbed the steep hill. As they climbed, the little blue engine began to sing: I Think I Can! I Think I Can! I Think I Can!…

Watty Piper –  The Little Engine That Could 

 In Chicago, the city where I live, 298 children have died as victims of violence over the past three years.  If nearly three hundred children had died in one horrific incident, it would justifiably draw our outrage with demands that something be done to ensure the horror never happens again. But because we’ve lost our children’s lives in single incidents as casualties of angry fists, retaliation shootings and stray bullets, our reaction comes in the slow drip of sadness and shaken heads. As the news moves on to sports scores and weekend weather forecasts, so does our attention. Those who miss the bright eyes of their babies never forget, but the rest of us move on.

Questions about how this tragic déjà vu continues evokes a complicated knot of responses that often include conditions of poverty, poor education, broken families, bad choices, the prevalence of drugs and gangs as communities of choice. It becomes convenient to think that it’s too much to change – too intricate, too entrenched, too overwhelming.

 Starting Up the Hill

Last week, five remarkable young Chicagoans proved to me once again just how remarkable we can be. Eric Parks, Davina Bridges, Brian Lane, Britney Evans and Da’Angela Shepard reminded me that gifted, strong, future leaders live in our urban centers. A loss of their talent would be a tremendous loss to us. Eric, Davina, Brian, Britney and Da’Angela are the 2012 Youth Leadership and Scholarship Awardees from UCAN, a social service agency who lives its mission that children of trauma can be our future leaders.  These young ladies and gentlemen have recently graduated from high school (several near the top of their class), are active, positive leaders in their community, and are on their way to college next fall. Watch them tell their stories to understand why so many see leadership potential in Eric, DaVina, Brian, Britney and Da’Angela.

So, what do these young urban leaders, and hundreds more striving UCAN clients, have to teach us about life, leadership and change. Plenty. These are the lessons they share at a young age gained from their remarkable stories:

1. Believe that you have greatness in you. You do. Regardless of the circumstances you did not ask for or those that you earned, you can still make positive use of your gifts. There is something in you that your loved ones, your community and the world needs. Let it shine.

2.  Think big and have goals.  It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or where you are, it matters where you’re headed. Set goals and watch your habits change. When your habits change, your decisions change.  When your decisions change, your life changes.

3.  Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Make your posse your cheering section. Hang out with others trying to make the same good choices that you are. Support each other, encourage each other, and love each other. There are people who believe in your greatness and long for your happiness. Find them. Nurture them. Listen to them.

4. One person can make a difference. The award winners from this year, as in past years, name the people who, in reaching out, sparked the flame of hope in their lives. We often think of societal solutions in terms of institutions, but I’ve never heard an award winner thank an institution. It’s not for lack of exposure. Instead, they thank people.  They name parents, relatives, teachers, coaches, clergy, UCAN caseworkers|counselors and mentors who initiated an outreach toward something that sparked their interest.

This is where you come in. If you want to make a difference, let your imagination be your guide. With minimal effort, you can find worthy organizations in your community, like UCAN, dedicated to building our future treasure. Get involved in any way that you can. Trust me, if you have something to offer – they will find a way to use it. You may never make a better investment of your time, dollars, talent or interests. If your experience is like mine, it’s an investment that pays back many times over. Often, it’s unclear to me who helps who more.

Getting to the Other Side

The long, hot summer is just starting in Chicago. Reports of more senseless loss will fill the space in the news between the headlines and the sports. These are no longer anonymous names to me. My mind will wander to the hundreds of UCAN clients who are working hard this summer to improve their lives and the dedicated UCAN employees who walk with them every day.  My heart will break that the treasure lost could not have been reached soon enough. My hopes will soar that leaders like Eric, Davina, Brian, Britney and Da’Angela will change not only the trajectory of their lives, but of others they inspire.

And they did! Very soon they were over the hill and going down the other side. The little blue engine could pull the train herself. And, she went merrily on her way, singing: I Thought I Could! I Thought I Could! I Thought I Could!…..

Watty Piper- The Little Engine That Could

Help Wanted!


Must be a self-starter – proactive

Must be motivated and innovative

Must be a self starter and able to make decisions with minimal supervision

The quotes listed above from actual help wanted ads are representative of commonly sought after traits in potential employees. We want goal driven self-starters, motivated to deliver results, champion initiatives and advocate for the organization’s goals with little supervision.  And why not? Proactive traits are essential for success in the fast paced, goal driven frenzy present in many organizations today. Leaner, flatter organizations require employees who can think and act independently on the organization’s behalf.

A common assumption is that proactive, self-directed traits come with the person; that these traits can be turned on like a light switch.  Interesting research from the Netherlands presents alternative conclusions. Instead of suggesting that expecting people to be consistent in showing proactive, initiative taking behavior regardless of the situation, F.D. Belschak and D.N. Den Hartog suggest employees are proactive and self-directed depending upon the situation.  Their research concludes three behavioral targets (the organization, the immediate team and self) inspire different levels of the proactive, self-motivating, change oriented behavior employers seek.

Belschak and Hartog conclude what most of us know:  Employees are not appliances to be plugged in and perform until their warranty expires. Fortunately, their research suggests proactive leadership behavior that may inspire the proactive, pro social behaviors desired from employees.

Transformational leadership practices stimulate employee’s initiative taking behaviors on behalf of the organization and/or team. That’s because transformational leadership inspires people to focus on collective goals by infusing work with meaning and a purpose bigger than the self.  Belschak and Hartog are among many researchers who suggest transformational leadership practices encourage proactive behavior on the part of the whole because we like to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  Leaders who take the time to describe what the organization is trying to achieve and relate it to the employee’s work have a higher likelihood of inspiring employee self directed behavior on behalf of the organization.

Team leadership practices encourage employees to develop understanding and appreciation for the roles of teammates. The bonus is that team leadership practices promote greater empathy and caring among team members built upon personal understanding and relationships.  Belschak and Hartog’s research concludes that employees frequently have a stronger bond with other team mates than for the broader organization, which explains why even seemingly disaffected team members will step up and initiate action on behalf of peer team mates. Leaders who invest in developing a team instead of a group of followers often reap the benefit through self-initiated support for peers when it’s needed most.

Performance oriented practices support self-directed behavior on behalf of the individual employee. Goal setting practices stimulate performance related to goal-oriented tasks and potential rewards serve as personal, self-directed motivation. Leaders who invest the time to understand employee career aspirations and to help employees translate them into personal, performance-oriented goals gain the benefits of proactive, self-directed performance.

Self-starting, self-motivated employees willing to go above and beyond are at the top of every leader’s list.  To a large extent, organizations can hire for this type of behavior, but need leaders to encourage people to bring out their best.  As Peter Drucker observed, “ The questions remain the same, but the answers change.” In this case, the answer to how to obtain consistent proactive behavior might lie within both the employee hired and the leader’s effort.


Belschak, F.D. and Den Hartog, D.N. (2010).  Pro self, prosocial and pro-organizational foci of proactive behavior: Different antecedents and consequences.

Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83, 475-498.

Thank You Friday


The following thought for today from His Holiness the Dalai Lama encourages me to deem this Thank You Friday.

“Our good fortune is dependent upon the cooperation and contributions of others. Every aspect of our present well-being is due to hard work on the part of others. As we look around us at the buildings we live and work in, the roads we travel, the clothes we wear, or the food we eat, we have to acknowledge that all are provided by others. None of them would exist for us to enjoy and make use of were it not for the kindness of so many people unknown to us.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

June 1, 2012

Wouldn’t it be nice to take a moment today to thank those who made the effort to improve your week? If, like me, you can’t personally thank  all those behind the scenes, it’s even more important to thank the people you can.

I’ll go first:

Thank you, Peter. You will be at the top of this list every week. Thank you for a lovely anniversary celebration, for your eagle eye proof reading and for writing another agreement. You set a high bar.

Thank you, Darryl, for such a kind note. The Barrett sisters married well.

Thank you, Kathy, for being a role model to remind me that it’s possible to be both a great person and a great businesswoman.

Thank you, Courtney and Stephanie, for making the time to meet.  These moments of  personal interaction are important because they allow me to escape  the parade of audio and video calls from my home office. The interesting conversation is a special bonus.

Thank you, David, for reaching out after such a long time. It will be a pleasure to reconnect with your wisdom and perspective again.

Thank you to Drs. Johnson and Carney, for investing time and interest in my well-being, even on routine visits.

Thank you to everyone who reads my blog. A special shout out  to David, Colleen and Mimi for your reactions and to Keeley for sharing her special social media touch. You encourage me to keep going when it’s especially needed.

Now it’s your turn.  Continue reading