Character and Choices

April 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

It was sunny, upbeat kind of Saturday. International Women’s Day had brought 150 smart, talented people together to celebrate and give recognition to the power of women in Silicon Valley. This was a group of awesome women with amazing stories of strength and courage. I was honored to be invited and in awe of the company around me. I had come this day to listen more than contribute. I wanted to soak up the stories and be totally anonymous in the crowd.

At lunchtime I joined a table of three other women where the conversation was in motion. There was an easy cadence to the exchange, a gentle ebb and flow of polite conversation among smart, successful women. As one woman completed her story I gently touched her arm, looked into her eyes and acknowledged the strength and courage her personal story had demonstrated. She paused, and started to cry. This is not what I had intended, nor expected. But what unfolded next was a release of pent up emotions, stories and grief. She had been seen, for the first time in a long time. I listened and I stayed with her until she was ready to move on.

This kind of thing happens to me pretty regularly. A random encounter at the ballet leads to a woman disclosing she is a victim of abuse, complementing a person’s haircut while on an elevator ride somehow opens the door to hearing about their abusive childhood and teen pregnancy. Most of us long to be seen, really, truly, deeply seen by another human being for the person we are and the person we aspire to be. When we are seen it touches and opens our heart. And when we misunderstood the pain stabs deep into our soul. These are parts of the human experience.

As the Chief of People for Mozilla my job is to help our organization be its best by enabling the best in our people. Helping others to realize their fullest potential and expression has been the work of my life. This work is not for the faint of heart. Especially when dealing with tough issues. And we’ve been dealing with some tough issues.

Working with people requires boundless patience, acceptance and respect for differences.

I have two grandchildren, one not quite two and the other not quite four. They bring true joy to my life. And they are a lesson in patience. They walk slower and run faster than me. They experience each new day less than 30” from the ground, and much of it is experienced for the very first time. Each moment is a new opportunity. Flower petals become beds for plastic insects, kitchen pot lids are filled with magic power, and clapping three times while calling softly can make skeet appear in the dark. They see the magic and potential and beauty in life that after five decades can be mistaken as simple, mundane and harsh. I feel more alive and excited about life when I am with them. Truly being with people, young or old, requires patience.

For me, patience is a practice. It is not a muscle that comes easy for me. When I am practicing patience I pause, I breathe, I suspend judgment. Being patient helps me explore and understand “what’s happening here” from different perspectives, even when I don’t like what has happened. Pausing helps me see things from different angles, consider new options to an issue, and most importantly, it provides time and space to get into relationship with others.

When we are challenged, afraid, or don’t like what is happening, our natural tendency is to react. It’s the place we go to protect our self-worth and our identity. It takes patience to stay in relationship with another human being through the tough reactive moments. And it’s hard to stay when it feels too much, too close, too personal, But when we stay, stay in relationship with the other person there is an opportunity to find deeper meaning, connection and understanding.

Staying can provide perspective and perspective enables acceptance. There are things I deal with everyday that hit my buttons and trigger my reactive tendencies. Once the breathing kicks in, my lens is focused on really seeing the other person. What’s happening for them? What do I need to understand? What’s my role here? How can I help them feel seen? It’s not about me, it’s about them. Acceptance lends depth to human interaction, breadth to my own understanding, and richness to relationships.

We are each well into our journey of accumulating life experiences that have shaped the person we have become. We are each filled with gifts, and goodness, frailty and fears. We want to be seen for what we have to offer, accepted for who we are and supported on our journey to be the person we have yet to be. I have profound respect for each person’s life experiences. They have shaped us into the person we are today, and the person we can become.

In your own journey this week I encourage you to have patience with others, spend time in a perspective other than your own, and appreciate the richness, and complexity, that is part of our humanity.


Independence and Interdependence

July 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

I met with my lead team several months ago. In coaching terms, it was a “designing alliance” meeting. The essence of the meeting was for the team to be really open about what they needed from me, and for me to be open about who I am, how I work, what I needed from them. Designing alliances allow you to settle into a broader awareness of one another and what is needed to work constructively together.  Terms and conditions are open to readdressing by any party, at any time.  For what it’s worth, this foundational skill is something I introduced into Mozilla a little over 18 months ago. Functional and product teams now use this technique, managers and employees use it, and individuals use it with one another.  It’s a great way to set the stage for a relationship of any kind.  But designed alliance is not the point of this blog.  I introduce it as the setting for unfolding an awareness point that I have been chewing on since.

When are you an individual and what is the effect to your individuality when you are in-service to a group?

During this session a member of the team pointed out that I interact differently with them during 1:1’s than I do when I work with the team. In particular, the feedback was that the “intimacy” and individual connection they felt during 1:1’s was missing when I was leading the full team. And this dichotomy wasn’t working for some of the team. It created a sense of imbalance, uncertainty and fear. Ouch.

So first, great feedback. We all know (probably first-hand) what happens to team effectiveness, loyalty and productivity when tensions like that sit under the level of the surface.  Now I needed to understand their feedback and do something to change. Part of the solution was mine, part of it was theirs and part of it was ours.

I spent several restless nights in self-examination of how I was showing up and what I needed to adjust to be both an authentic and effective leader for the team. I have a deep responsibility for the impact I have on others. And I take this responsibility seriously. I followed up with each member of the team to better understand their needs, to share mine and to revisit our individual “designed alliances”.

I also wanted to better understand the root of this tension for the team. And I honed in on the larger group dynamic. I realized the team was a combination of strong individual contributors as well as those with deep experiences leading and working on teams. Part of the tension were a set of unspoken assumptions between when you are an individual and when you are working in service to a group.  There were those who saw themselves only as individuals, loosely coupled to the team. Others (me included) were working from the assumptions that the team was tightly coupled.

For us, it raised a core issue about when you move and act as an independent individual and when interdependency requires you to consider the needs of the broader group. The outcome was a follow-up meeting where we spent two days together creating explicit norms for how we will work together. We have a deep responsibility for the impact we have on others. And we take this responsibility seriously.

As part of the Tribe committed to changing the world of work, I’m curious if others have noticed or experienced this type of tension. I’m curious about how it shows up. I’m curious if it shows-up more in cultures that have high value on independence.  I’m curious about the implications of this type of tension on geo-distributed teams. I’m curious what others have done to mitigate it. I’m curious what others have tried that didn’t work out so well.

I’m curious what this posting brings up for you.

Holding Space and Finding My Own

June 25, 2013 § 1 Comment

It’s been awhile since my last post. Somewhere late last year I ran out of room. Room for myself because I was too full holding space for others. And its taken me awhile to let go enough to find space for myself again.

There is a reason in airplanes they tell you to “first put the oxygen mask on yourself” and then take care of others. But when you are not flying at 30,000′ with it’s associated risks, it is easier said than done. And in the spirit of changing the world of work, I think it’s worth exploring the implications of reaching “past full” and looking at some options to help when it happens.

And it happens. To all of us from time to time. You know the feeling. Like you are full up past your eyeballs (sometimes mine actually leak when I reach this kidding!). You have no additional capacity to take on one more thing and the next thing to come along just might cause you to loose it. And you are not even sure what “it” is, but your pretty sure if you lost “it” it would not be a pretty sight.

When we reach this point, our tendencies are to react. To protect. To defend. To control. To hunker down and slog our way through. Why? Because we have to. Because no one else can do it. Because (fill in the blank with your favorite reason).

And what I’ve come to learn is our reasons limit space for the thing we need most. Help. The thing we need the most, we are hesitant to seek. And the odd thing is, the hands and hearts are always there. Waiting. Sometimes pleading, to help.

Our reasons and rationales actually create distance. Often from those who care the most for us. Which is ironic, because the way out of the particular pit of doom and dread we are living in is to rely on others, to ask for help. To allow other to help. To know we are worthy of help.

I know for most of us this level of vulnerability can be uncomfortable. Especially in a work setting where we have this script running in our head that tell us we must be strong, we must not crack, we must (fill in with your favorite reason). In one of my most favorite TED talks of all time, Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability. And that at it’s core is a belief that we are worthy of love, of being cared for. And that surrounding each of us are friends, allies and mentors to help. When we need it.

I needed them. And once I was able to let them in, my load lightened. And now my voice is back. Let begin again. Together.

Habits and Internal Drive

December 2, 2012 § 3 Comments

As I sat peacefully on the warm sands of North Myrtle beach, my eyes fixed on the behaviors of the birds. Just offshore I noticed large flocks riding the warm air current southwards. They swooped and swerved in an orderly and carefree manner. The force of the air stream carried them along at a pretty good clip. In terms of birds, all I know is something inside of them triggers the flock to habitually migrate south in the winter. So what happens when a handful defy their instincts?

There were these three birds. They looked to be from the same flock, but instead of heading south with the rest of the bird tribe, they were flying against the wind. Their heads were bowed low against the force coming at them, their wings moved with slow, determined, deliberate purpose. For minutes, it appeared all the strength they exerted moved them nowhere. They were flying in place, making limited forward progress.

In my quest to change the world of work, that’s how it feels to me some days. Like I’m flapping my wings against strong headwinds, and making little progress. But there is a strong internal drive forcing me to fly in a different direction from the flock. And I am committed to my journey.

I recently hosted an event for a local group of HR leaders. While the intent of the group is to support innovation in the field of HR, what I experienced that morning was more of the same habitual “flying with the current” dialogue. The concept being presented was interesting, yet the underlying assumptions were same-old-same-old. At some point I couldn’t sit quiet anymore and, without being too disruptive, offered another perspective.

The room tensed. What was this? A new member of the flock making a u-turn and flying against the current? I understand how hard to can be to give voice to alternative, perhaps controversial, perspective. Yet without doing so, nothing will change. Each time we find the strength to constructively add our voice, it is an opportunity for forward progress.

What’s of particular note is what happened following the event. My inbox was flooded with messages from peers who expressed gratitude for an alternative way of thinking and a outpouring of offers to connect and extend the conversation. The flock is questioning it’s habits.

And so I continue my upstream flight against strong headwinds. And I welcome my new friends to the tribe.

Motivation and passion

September 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

I recently visited Warsaw, Poland.  I found the city, sad.

One evening I had the opportunity to dine with a local activist and lawyer who explained that before World War II Warsaw as one of the cultural meccas of Eastern Europe. The war left the city in ruins; 90% of Warsaw was leveled and 85% of it’s inhabitants were killed.  To rebuild,  the government rounded up people from the surrounding countrysides, shipped them into Warsaw and put them to task. Build. As the story was told, there was no master plan and those shipped in to construct the new city had no vested interest in what they were building. No motivation to create beauty, or character, or charm, or culture.

After dinner, several of my traveling companions stayed in the city center. The next day one of them declared she no longer found the city, sad. When asked what changed, she commented that during their escapades in Old Town there was a fiddler playing in the square. His music created an uplift in the air, sounds of happiness and hope. His lyrical sounds changed the way she felt about her surroundings and about her experiences with the city.

One person, expressing their passion, made a difference.

Find a moment today and express your passion.

Obstacles and noticing

September 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

My drive from our home to Mozilla’s San Francisco office takes about 15 minutes. As I got in the car I had 23 minutes to make the commute and arrive on time for my first meeting of the day. Time enough for the commute, to grab a cup of coffee and for a quick round of “good morning” greetings. And then obstacles started popping up. The first one was the humdinger.

I’m in the garage preparing to back up when, out of the rear view mirror a dog (a BIG dog) and its petite owner appear. It’s really clear my car is backing up toward the sidewalk. And the dog (did I mention it was a BIG dog) decides this is the time and the place to take care of its morning constitution. Really. The owner can see I am backing out. Couldn’t she tug the dog (the BIG dog) a bit forward out of the driveway so the dog can take a leisurely dump and let me get on my way? Nope. They pause, smack in the middle of the opening and begin to take care of business. Tick-tick, tock-tock. Scratch the morning cup of coffee and pleasantries. I am agitated and annoyed.

And then, I saw her. I started to take notice. Of what was happening, not for me, but for the owner of the dog.

She looked panic. The dog had one point of need and I had another. She was stuck between the two. She did try to move the dog, but he was pretty committed to his task. I was in the car, engine revving, evil-eye beaming through the rear-view mirror.  She looked at me. She looked at the dog. And then she did something I would NEVER do. She moved into a catch position to expedite the clean-up responsibilities of urban dog ownership. I couldn’t watch; the mere idea of what she was doing to speed the situation along was causing my gag reflex to kick in (it was a BIG dog).  She was doing her best in a tough spot.

I became less agitated. Breathed. And began to notice what was happening for me.

Obstacles happen. In my every day life and in my work life. By their nature, obstacles are inconvenient and most often out of my control.  When they happen I get to decided where I put my attention and focus. I get to choose how I let an obstacle effect me, and by extension, how it effects others. I get to choose.

I’m curious where you notice people stuck in the agitation and annoyance that obstacles inevitability cause. Were are our leverage points to help others expand their range of responses.

Stepping out and stepping up

August 30, 2012 § 3 Comments

This day has been a long time in coming. For years, many of you have championed and cajoled me to find a platform where I can share my thoughts and ideas more broadly. So, here I am. Stepping out. It’s exciting, intimidating and a little overwhelming.

Soon after I left Time Warner my brother asked me what I planned to do next. Without hesitation I blurted out “I don’t know, but I have a profound need to change the world of work”. As only loving brothers can do, he laughed hysterically and muttered “how the hell do you think you’re going to do that”. I boldly replied, ” I have no idea, but I know I need to do it”. And there it was. I committed to my journey.

It’s been over 5 years since that day. A lot has happened. I’m ready to expand the dialogue; changing the world is not a solo effort! It’s time to galvanize and ignite an army of people who are passionate about, and committed to, changing the world of work.

That’s what this blog is for. A place for us to imagine “What if” and “Why not”. A place for us to share innovative and mold-breaking thoughts and ideas. A place to question, everything about the way work happens, where it happens, how it happens. This is a place to tell our stories of success, share risks taken and celebrate lessons learned. A place to challenge each other to act.

Join me on this journey. Bring a few friends. It’s time to step out and step up. The world of work needs changing and we are the ones to get it done.


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