Are you a label maker?

ImageRecently I was called for a reference and was asked for the “one word that best described the candidate”. One word?, I thought. How can I possibly encapsulate all the power and potential of this person in just one word? And worse, once I say whatever word I pick, will it be affixed in the other person’s mind forever? What if I get it wrong?

I don’t know if we’re all born with an overzealous need to organize everything, but I have noticed we seem to have a keen need to label ourselves, and the people around us.

Through our lives we collect a series of labels. These labels are hewn from inputs from all over: descriptions put on report cards by first grade teachers; off-handed comments by teenage friends; feedback from your first work supervisor; a comment thrown out in a heated discussion with a loved one… the sources are endless!

We seem to latch on to these labels and they frame a basis for how we see ourselves. Sometimes they even drive our behaviour in terms of prescribing how we act in the future. In many ways we are what we believe about ourselves, and equally dangerous we see others in the context of the labels that we have heard affixed to them.

These labels put opaque lenses on our observations, colouring our impressions of what we see in others. And they can actually be self-fulfilling prophecies that influence the opportunities people are given, and the interpretation of their work.

In building teams it is important that we not encapsulate our team members in labels that limit their ability to stretch and to bring the full extent of their contribution to the table. Putting labels on people, or on ourselves, allows us to organize the team into a nice little arrangement in our mind – yet it also restricts the full range of contribution that the team members can bring.

By labelling someone with a functional expertise you run the risk of ignoring his or her great ideas outside of that specific area. By labelling someone with a certain personality trait you ignore other parts of his or her personality or needs. By labelling someone with a certain competency you can ignore the many other competencies that they have, or that they can develop if given the opportunity. Similarly, when you label yourself you restrict your innovation and your willingness to step out of your ‘label zone’ and stretch yourself to your maximum.

This call was a gentle reminder to myself to avoid the trap of assigning neat little labels on myself or on others…because nothing is more limiting than that.


Searching for balance? Keep your head where your feet are

126409852 I was asked recently to share on my blog some comments I have made over the years to people seeking the extremely elusive “work-life balance”.   When my kids were really young I would often get asked “How do you do it? How do you balance young kids, community work, and your job?” The first thing I should say is that I often found this question startling. My immediate thought would be “how can they possibly think I’m balancing everything?”. Many days back then I felt like I had long given up trying to keep my head above water, and was fighting to keep just one nostril exposed to let me breathe!  Happily I did learn how to achieve that elusive feeling of balance, at least the balance that is right for me and, for what it may be worth, here is my advice.

1. Let go the Myth of Perfect Balance I have always felt that trying to find that perfect ‘balance’ is setting yourself up for failure. Chasing this myth immediately sets one side of your life facing off against the other. There you are desperately seeking that magical fulcrum that will make the pieces hang in perfect harmony. Not so! Think instead of your life as a rich tapestry, and you have to weave all the pieces together into the beautiful picture that is uniquely right for you. And the picture in your tapestry cannot be the same as anyone else’s, because it is built on choices that are uniquely your own. Will you marry? Will you have children? If so, how many? What community and volunteer organizations will you be part of? What friends will you spend time with? How will you invest in your own health and wellness? What career will you love and choose to pursue? The secret to ‘balancing’ all these choices is to think of them as selections that you are making to weave together in the one story that is uniquely your own, the one picture that is uniquely satisfying to you.

2. Keep your head where your feet are Be very mindful of which piece of the tapestry you are working on at a given time, and be very focused in that moment. When my children were really little I started to feel really unbalanced… I was spending all my time at work worrying about home and all my time at home worrying at work. I quickly realized that I needed to learn to be focused in the moment. The mantra I developed for myself was ‘keep your head where your feet are”. When you are at work – stay focused on work, and when you are at home  – the same rule applies! There is always something else that you COULD be doing – the key is to focus on what you ARE doing. I don’t know any greater feeling of imbalance than having your head and feet in two different places. Training yourself to be fully present goes a long way to driving balance in your life.

3. Balance is a marathon  Remember that balance is a marathon. You don’t need to have everything perfectly balanced every day! What is important is that overall – when you look back on the weeks, months and years – you feel balanced, even if there were many days that you didn’t!  Moments of imbalance are normal.  However,  if you are feeling that you’ve been going too long with only that one nostril poking over the water and you’re about to go under – don’t panic. Instead climb to the nearest shore (may I suggest a spa day or personal retreat?), take a breath, reflect on the choices you are making, and see how you can adjust your personal story to make it more what you are seeking.

All this to say, this is what I found worked for me. The biggest message in the story of balance is that it is a truly personal journey. Give yourself permission to make the choices and take the actions that work for you. Don’t apologise…this is your life you’re living.



Mind the Gap! Don’t forget the TMO

Transition (Oxford Dictionary)

tran·si·tion, tranˈziSHən,-ˈsiSHən/

noun: The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.

verb:  Undergo or cause to undergo a process or period of transition.

It seems every organization, whether corporate, non-profit, or public sector,  is fixated on change these days. “Transformation” programs abound, and adaptability to change is table stakes for success in any role. That said, I often observe that not enough attention is paid to the transition phase. We obsess on the CMO (current mode of operation,) and the FMO (future mode of operation) – but spend too little time on the TMO (transition mode of operation).

I would argue that the TMO is a key phase that needs to be planned, managed, and harvested if you wish to have the best results in any change initiative.   In fact it is the TMO that dictates the success of your transformation initiative. If the TMO is too uncomfortable or poorly designed your organization will not have the ability to let go of their old ways and adopt your new process or design.

I met an author, Gail Blanke, a number of years ago who had written a great book on life changes “Between Trapezes – Flying into a new life with the greatest of ease”.   I loved the analogy she painted of change through the example of circus performers. She told me that the thing that people often fail to think about when thinking of trapeze artists is that they have to let go of the bar they are hanging on BEFORE they grab the new bar. For that tiny instant they are holding on to nothing at all. What courage it takes to let go of something and be completely helpless for that split second before you grab the next bar!

If you are managing a change initiative, have you spent enough time preparing your organization for that period of transition? Are you prepared for the anxiety and fear in that moment when the organization has to let go of the old way of doing things, but has not yet fully grabbed the new mode? Are you ready to help people understand what is required during transition, communicate their fears and support each other? I would suggest that all of these things are critical for a successful change program.

     In short, when driving transformation – Mind the Gap!