We all win with diverse work environments!

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“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without”.

(William Sloan Coffee, Jr.)

Merriam-Webster defines diversity as the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.  Clear as mud, right?

Organizations with diversity initiatives need to ensure they fully understand what diversity means.  Simply making a statement does not ensure diversity in the work environment will happen.  Diversity must be examined in order to identify how it can be fully implemented and embraced in the work environment.

Some organizations define diversity on very short-sighted components i.e., men, women, race.  These components are all intertwined when discussing diversity but there should be more components included in a truly diverse work environment.

Leveraging background dynamics, educational and life experiences as well as demographic components will help generate a new level of diversity for organizations who truly seek this in the work environment.  There are some organizations who say they want diversity but continue to hire clones of the staff currently working there.  This is the opposite of the Merriam-Webster’s diversity definition.

“We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges”.

(Tim Berners-Lee)

Diverse work environments value different perspectives. This includes skills, experiences, backgrounds and education.  This concept brings a variety of ways to get things done.  Bringing diversity into the work environment allows the organization to grow and avoid the groupthink mentally that stifles new thoughts.

New thoughts in the work environment leads to increased creativity when facing a problem, change or new procedure.  True diversity brings together people who will see the same problem from different perspectives and sharpens everyone because of this exposure.  The creative impact on the organization increases because staff hear, see, feel, think differently and exposes others to different ways to get things done.  This creativity process may also impact innovation within the organization.

Decision making and problem solving are other areas a diverse work environment can enhance.  Again, a diverse work force brings new thoughts, ideas and ways to get things done to the workplace.  Leadership receives diverse solutions to organizational problems and has multiple options to select from.  This leads to faster problem solving and allows the organization to tackle new challenges.

A caution, leadership must be willing to accept the diverse solutions and not revert to business as usual.  The worse thing that can happen is for leadership to say “we always do it this way OR that will not change as long as I’m here”—the quickest way to deflate staff and eliminate their voice in the work environment.

A diverse work environment can also help retain staff members.  A diverse and empowered work environment helps staff members feel accepted and valued.  This creates a happier work force and may lead to staff staying with the organization longer.

So, let’s examine the Merriam-Webster diversity definition again:

  • The condition of having or being composed of differing elements.

A few elements to consider for workplace diversity:

  • Race
  • Gender / Identity
  • Education / Educational Institutions
  • Geographic region
  • Age
  • Experience

A final thought on diversity is it impacts your clients as well.  A more diverse work force can enhance an organization’s ability to attract diverse clients.  Example:  a university office with a diverse staff will be able to attract diverse students because they see someone who’s like them.  Don’t overlook the importance of how diversity impacts your clients.

What does your organization do to ensure a diverse work environment?  How can diversity be improved?

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”.

(Verna Myers)

Thanks for walking with me!

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Walking and exploring the Great Smoky Mountains (Gatlinburg, Tennessee)

Smokey Mountains hue

“Live a life of quiet inspiration.”

(William Britten)

Why Gatlinburg?

There’s an old saying “The mountains are calling, and I must go” attributed to John Muir who spent his life advocating for wilderness preservation.  I would like to think John Muir’s words were instrumental to my trek back up to the Smoky mountains and Gatlinburg in particular.

My true inspiration to get back in the mountains came from an August 2019 NBC Nightly News special on a new Gatlinburg attraction, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America:  https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/take-a-trip-to-the-longest-pedestrian-suspension-bridge-in-north-america-67497029583

  • Requested my 2019 Gatlinburg Vacation Guide when the news went off

I’ve been in the Smokey mountains and Gatlinburg years ago but seeing the suspension bridge on TV got me excited to go back to the mountains and explore.  Finally, just decided to head up in mid-November before the weather got too cold and snow covered the mountain roads.  I’m good driving in the mountains but didn’t want to fight ice and snow as I made my way through the winding roads.  Got lucky with sunny weather and high temps in the low 50s.  Turned out to be ideal hiking weather and didn’t have to wear too many layers of clothes to stay warm.  Started peeling off layers about an hour into my first hike.

Hiking the Smokey Mountains

So, this is where I apologize to all my friends who have been avid hikers over the years.  I didn’t fully get the concept of hiking because I’m always looking for my next training run.  Texted a few of them to admit my error while I was out on my first hike of the day.  I fully get hiking now—it was an amazing experience and can’t wait to do it again!

Started the hiking adventure on the Trails in the Sugarland Area which is the first Smokey mountain hiking area leaving Gatlinburg.  Decided this would be a nice warm up trail to get me out and exploring.  Got a map and quick briefing at the Welcome Center and then I was off on the trails.  Didn’t know what I would see on this trail but was excited to begin the adventure.

Well, to my surprise almost got run over by a deer and while trying to take a picture of the buck, saw a flock of turkeys coming up behind me—this was the first 5 minutes of my hike! LOL.  Believe this episode is where I decided hiking is the greatest thing ever—this flurry of wildlife activity got me ready to see more.  Didn’t get a picture of the deer since I was trying to keep the turkeys in range to take a picture of them.

Continued the trails to see what else was ahead and came to the John Ownby cabin.  The structure was in decent shape and highlights how early mountain folks lived.  This was also a good place to take a break and take in everything I had experienced in a short period of time.  This is also the spot I texted my friends to say I get hiking now! 😊  Left the cabin and got on the next trail head and made it over to Cataract Falls.  Thought this was going to be a larger area but was happy with the scenic beauty I saw hiking over to the falls.  Only saw a few hikers out but everyone was friendly.  Got a chance to take pictures at the falls and sit awhile to admire the surroundings.  Very peaceful, quiet and refreshing time sitting at the falls.  Covered about 3 miles on this hiking segment.  Wanted to explore a bit more in this area but decided to move on after the tour buses started dropping groups off—the trail heads got crowded quickly!

Moved further into the Smokey mountains and made my way to the Sugarland Parks Trail.  Similar name as the first adventure but this was a .5-mile paved trail.  Not much wildlife to see on this trail but had great water views and river scenery.  Didn’t spend a lot of time here because it was a short, one loop trail.

Decided to venture further up the mountain to see what other adventures were waiting.  Saw several stop points on the way and pulled over at the Carlos C. Campbell Overlook. No trails here but the view of the mountains was tremendous!  Had this area to myself so took advantage of the photo opportunity while it lasted.

 Campbell Overlook

Next stop was the Gatlinburg trail which had a little bit of everything.  Trails, rivers, bridges, climbs, drops and wildlife.  Spent quite a bit of time exploring on this trail just enjoying the experience and nature.  Covered 10 miles total hiking on the different trails during my Smoky mountain adventures.

Skybridge

Got a quick lunch after my hiking adventures and headed to the main reason for my visit, the Gatlinburg Skybridge.  Gatlinburg has always had a Sky Lift Park to haul people up the mountain to get a higher view of the area.

The Skybridge is a new addition to Sky Lift Park and has become the main attraction for most people to see when visiting Gatlinburg.  It did not disappoint!  It’s a suspension bridge so it moves while walking on it—it really moves with a lot of people walking on it!  There were several folks on the bridge who didn’t look so happy with their decision to make the walk across.  The Skybridge is an excellent way to view Gatlinburg, see the surrounding mountains tops and people watch.  The pass for Sky Lift Park is good for the entire day so I was able to come back once it got dark to experience the ride up and the bridge at night.  Didn’t stay as long the second time up because it started getting cold when the sun went down.

https://www.gatlinburgskylift.com/skybridge

Moonshine tasting

The Gatlinburg Vacation guide was an excellent resource to help plan out my activities.  Discovered Gatlinburg has several distilleries and wineries right downtown.  I’ve toured rum and whiskey distilleries in the past but never a moonshine tour.  Researched the moonshine distilleries and decided to visit multiple since they were so close to each other and walkable.  My first stop was the Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery because of the variety of flavors they make.  $5 gets you a taste of every moonshine flavor/proof in the store.

These range from 128 proof down to 40 proof with different flavors:  https://olesmoky.com/collections/moonshine.

Made sure I ate before touring the moonshine distilleries—good thing because moonshine has a kick to it. 😊

Next, made my way down the street to visit Sugarlands Distilling Company to see what they had:  https://www.sugarlands.com/moonshine/.

They had some unique moonshine flavors and names but gave several of them a try during my tasting tour.  FYI, moonshine really warms you up, didn’t feel the cold after my sipping tour of moonshine distilleries.

Decided to head back to Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery and went right to the top of the moonshine proof levels—got the Blue Flame (128 proof).  Will probably be sipping on this jar of moonshine for months—not for heavy consumption.

Freedom to travel

2019 has been an adventurous year for me to explore.  I’ve been blessed to have the ability to pick places to visit and then make my way there.  I’ve explored places I’ve always wanted to visit and some of my favorite places again.  Looking forward to seeing where 2020 takes me!  I plan to keep Walking into the Future with no return date! 😊

Lessons learned

  • Never drive in the Smoky mountains at night— (1) it’s scary and (2) you miss the scenic beauty of the mountains
  • North Carolina / East Tennessee BBQ sauce is vinegar based; I don’t like vinegar in my BBQ sauce
  • Hiking is a fantastic pastime! Will find other areas to explore this new hobby! 😊
  • I like moonshine! It mixes great with fruit punch
  • Gatlinburg has a walkable downtown area—find a place to park and walk around to enjoy the attractions

Thanks for walking with me!

Where have you always wanted to visit?  How much hiking do you plan to do in 2020?

 

 

Mentors provide valuable lessons for us to share

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“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can”.

 (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

We all need someone to mentor and guide us on our journey.  I have had some great people step into my life and provide guidance needed for successful outcomes.  I reach out and thank them as much as possible because their lessons walk with me every day.

I purposefully relay those same messages to my tree branches when needed.  So, the tree started with my mentors, and my goal is to keep it growing with new branches who will grow additional branches.

Had an interesting conversation with one of my closest branches.  She mentioned she met with former students at their request and realized these students were branches from her tree.  I hope to continue to hear about additional tree branches sprouting in other areas.  How many branches have you added to the tree?

Greatest lesson learned

The greatest lesson I learned from my mentor is patience with others.  The pace of the world continues to accelerate but patient leaders provide direct reports the space to learn, make mistakes and grow.  Leaders who display patience in the work environment provide a space for reflection and active coaching when needed.  The exact lesson my mentor gifted me I call:  3 check-ins.  Sounds like a weird game for the work environment but I’ve seen it work and leverage it to this day.

So, how does 3 check-ins work?  Great question!

Example:

You assign a work project to one of your direct reports with a specific due date.  Instructions are provided but you allow the direct report freedom to get the project completed prior to the due date.  The assigned project will have 3 check-in points built in where the leader comes back to the direct report to:

  • Make sure the assignment was understood (reflection)
  • Answer outstanding questions (learn)
  • Offer support/guidance if needed (coaching)
  • Adjust goals (as needed)

The 3 check-ins are spaced out to allow for adjustments to the project if needed but keeps the direct report focused on positive outcomes.  Creating organized check points for the project shows the leader is a willing partner and seeks growth for team members.  This also eliminates the direct report from feeling like they are alone on the project.  We want them to take initiative but not feel they have no support.

The 3 check-ins approach is not designed as a fancy way to micromanage a team.  It provides a support system to enhance professional growth and ensure successful outcomes for the entire team.  Also, the approach allows the leader to serve their team and maximize individual talents.

How do you provide support when assigning projects to your team?  How can the 3 check-in approach enhance your operation?  (Please respond in the comments section below—thanks!)

“The best teachers are those who tell you where to look—but don’t tell you what to see”.

 (Alexander K. Trenfor) 

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“Play chess not checkers in the work environment.”

(Calvin Williams)

Thanks for walking with me!

Leverage individual communication styles to enhance team operations

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“In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly”.

(Mark Sanborn)

There are no two teams that are exactly alike.  Not the most prophetic thing I’ve ever written in this blog space but worth stating.

Teams have different dynamics and function based on these things and the people who make up the team.  The most successful teams can leverage the talents of each team member into the overall organizational dynamic to ensure successful outcomes.

We’ve discussed team communication strategies in previous posts with an angle to strengthen your team.  Individual communication styles and preferences should be reviewed and discussed when you add someone new to your team.  I’m sure everyone strives to hire the best candidate to fill an opening on their team.  How much thought do you put into understanding how to integrate the new team member’s communication style in with others?

I’m a firm believer that leaders should know direct reports’ communication style and preferred way they want to receive information.  This knowledge allows leaders to seek ways to ensure they communicate in a way to maximize operational needs.  This knowledge has helped me when assigning tasks to team members.

Example #1:  When faced with a project that has an extremely quick turnaround time, I normally assign this project to my ENFJ (MBTI) staff member.  This type project excites the staff member and I know they will get things done quickly with enough time for review before the deadline.

Example #2:  When faced with a project due four months from today, I normally assign this project to my ISTJ (MBTI) staff member.  This type project allows the staff member time to plan, strategize and ask all the questions they need to for a successful outcome.

The examples listed above are two actual scenarios I’ve tackled in the past.  Both had successful outcomes because I knew and understood how to engage staff to maximize their talents.  This in turn produced successful outcomes for the organization.

Knowledge of individual communication styles also provides a blueprint to help build training plans to help staff members grow.  Introverted staff are not exempt from ever getting a task with a quick turnaround.  The leader needs to provide a more detailed set of instructions and understand they may have to follow-up with the staff member.  This process begins to stretch the staff member and helps their professional growth.  This also provides the leader with another staff member who can handle future quick turnaround projects and not wear out the extroverts.  Also, extroverted staff are not exempt from being assigned long term projects—training applies to all staff members.

There are multiple ways to engage staff to understand their individual communication style.  MBTI and CliftonStrengths are two tools used in my work environments.  These tools allowed me to get a better understanding of everyone on my team and integrate this knowledge to help teammates understand each other as well.

What’s the most successful way for me to understand how to communicate with my team?  I sit down with them and ask everyone how they like to receive information.  Simple, huh?  Then I make sure to communicate with everyone in a manner they identify (as much as possible).  Things pop up but I try to remain consistent with the communication process.  Direct reports seem to appreciate this fact and respond in a positive manner.

A final note, leaders need to ensure their team knows how they like to communicate as well.  The team shouldn’t have to guess how to approach a leader.  This creates undo stress and is not productive.

How do you account for individual communication styles in the work environment?  Can this knowledge impact your current organization?  (Please respond in the comments section below—thanks!)

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something”.

(Plato)

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2019 Boston (GA) mini marathon (Recap)

Boston mini

“How do you know someone ran a marathon?  Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

(Jimmy Fallon)

My Walk into the Future continues to provide me with adventures and challenges to chase.  The latest challenge came during the Boston (GA) mini marathon (13.1 miles) on 10/26/19.  This race was on my 2019 schedule because I ran it last year and had really good results.  Set my first of many personal records (PR) at the race last year.

Fast forward to this year’s race and there’s not a PR to discuss.  My race time and finish position regressed this year.  Was a bit disappointed with my results because I know I can run faster and have done so multiple times this year on tougher courses.

So, why did I regress during this race?  Great question and I spent a day reflecting on why this race didn’t go as I planned.  Turns out I simply took running fast times for granted.  Not saying I didn’t train and put in the miles to run another good half marathon time.

  • September miles: 44 (includes Philly Rock N Roll Half marathon)
  • October miles: 29 (includes Boston mini marathon)

I did assume my Boston mini marathon race results from 2018 would automatically translate to the 2019 race.  The course was the same, but the weather was significantly different this year–mid-50s in 2018 and mid-70s with high humidity this year.  Also, needed a better hydration plan since the temperatures and humidity were higher than normal for an October morning.

My race mistakes are all easily correctable and I was back in the gym the next morning correcting them.  My physical race prep will still resemble what I’ve been doing but working on the mental aspects, so I never enter a race with assumptions again.  I improved my half marathon times this year by entering every race with a chip on my shoulder—got ahead of myself for this race but the corrections are being made.

Lesson learned—never take a race or finish time for granted.

Boston mini marathon weekend

Boston (GA) is a nice little town 40 miles northeast of Tallahassee (FL).  The people are friendly and have a blast for the entire race weekend. The half marathon is just one of the events they host for the weekend. It’s the kickoff event but most of the weekend action happens once the runners get out of the way.

Vendors setup before the sun comes out to get ready for visitors.  The Boston butt BBQ competition is fierce with BBQ outfits from multiple states vying to win the first-place prize money.  Most of these folks provide samples of their competition level BBQ after the race.  There are other vendors with additional items for purchase (cakes, pies, fish, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc.).  Almost has a carnival feel to the day once the race is over.

The parade starts right after the race awards are presented.  I normally hit the road right before the parade kicks off since most intersections are blocked to accommodate the parade route.  Great little town and event if you’re ever in the area.

https://bostonga.com/boston-mini-marathon/

 

Next race

Will venture down to Orlando for the Orlando Utility Commission (OUC) half marathon on 12/7/19.  I ran my first ever half marathon at the OUC event back in 2013.  Hard to believe but I’ve been chasing people at half marathons for 6 years now.  Never thought I would run another half marathon after the first one but now I’m traveling the country making memories with my friends.  Pretty cool transformation for me as I continue to Walk into the Future.

Looking forward to my training as I prepare for the OUC race.  Also excited to catch up with family and friends while in the Orlando area.  Already got my post-race lunch location picked and can’t wait to eat shrimp and grits! 😊 Plan to visit my favorite reggae spot, Bob Marley’s at City Walk too.  Will be another fun adventure for me!

 OUC Half

“Running won’t solve all your problems.  But then again, neither will housework.”

(Unknown)

How do you bounce back from a set back?  What lessons have you learned when things don’t turn out as planned?  Thanks!

Superhero work is tough but worth every minute!

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“There is a superhero in all of us, we just need the courage to put on the cape”.

(Superman)

Who knew saving the world would be so tough?  Note:  I’m enjoying every minute of it!

My current Walk into the Future allows me maximum flexibility on projects I decide to tackle.  Leveraging my why daily provides a foundation to ensure I’m getting things done the right way.

Got a request to help a local high school student find renewed focus and create a schedule to enhance academic success.  I never ventured towards this demographic since my work with college students and experienced professionals fits my areas of interest.  I didn’t accept the request initially because I didn’t see how I could help.  My excuses were:

  • Not familiar with high school curriculum
  • Two parent home provides enough guidance
    • Why would a high school student listen to me and not parents?
  • My personal bias towards education
  • Not invested in this process

Well, once I got out of my own way and viewed this as another opportunity to help someone succeed regardless of grade level, the obvious choice was to put on my cape and shiny boots and get down to what true superheroes do—save the world! 😊

Decided to leverage the MBTI with my new tree branch and parents to determine a communication pattern in the household.  The MBTIs were extremely close, and this gave me additional information to begin our meeting.  Discussed the implications of the MBTI results and how we could leverage this information to create an action plan for success.

Next, we discussed ways to bring a more organized approach to studying and getting assignments completed.  I thought this would have been an area that would create a level of resistance but was pleasantly surprised with the overall buy-in.  I didn’t create the organizational approach but suggested some things I thought would work; consistent study times, area, length and scheduled breaks.  I let the family discuss and recorded highlights so we could follow-up; wanted to ensure the family took responsibility for the learning outcomes with me serving as their resident superhero (guide).

We were able to create a study schedule with predetermined breaks and a stated commitment from everyone to abide by this schedule.  Adjustments can be made as needed, but we need a consistent team effort to make this work for everyone.  Again, they agreed to the parameters and we moved forward as a unified group.

The commitment was further verified when they ask me when they should follow-up with me for a progress report.  I wasn’t going to push this aspect but believe this shows a new level of progress and willingness to put the work in for success. We agreed to have follow-up sessions in two-week increments based on assignment due dates.  The follow-up sessions allow us to adjust as needed or provide an opportunity to praise progress.

“Life doesn’t give us purpose.  We give life purpose”.

(The Flash)

Happy to report this process allowed me to stay true to my why:  to impact people in a positive way to leave them better than when I found them.

Doesn’t really matter if it’s a high school student, experienced professional or a random person on the street.  Superheroes save the world regardless of how hard it may seem.

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“You don’t need to be strong like a superhero, you just need to be better than yesterday”.

(Spiderman)

Okay, enough superhero talk—need to take this cape off and my boots are hurting me feet!  Tomorrow’s another day! 😊

Who can you be a superhero to today?  What would stop you from helping?

 “Wakanda Forever.”

(Black Panther) 

People are more important than the job description (My soapbox)

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“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say”.

(Andy Stanley)

So, need to vent for a minute.

Continue to see and hear across multiple industries where the boss makes job description modifications (additions/deletions/unit changes) without discussing with the person doing the actual job.  The boss is then surprised when staff decide to find a work environment that views them as more than the job description.

Please note, I’m not saying changes can’t be made to a specific job description.  Organizational missions change and updating duties, responsibilities and unit structure provides growth needed to move forward.  Leaders need to ensure the people tasked with getting things accomplished remain a part of the overall process.  Imagine the favorite part of your current position is removed and nothing was said to you prior to implementation.  How would you feel?

I know leaders who make decisions based on how the job description is written and refuse to consider the impact on the person in the position.  Never agreed with this logic and still don’t.  People are more important than the job description!

The authentic leadership variable balanced processing would help in these situations.  My research identified balanced processing as the variable that best explains job satisfaction for direct reports.  They want to be involved and should be.

Leaders are encouraged to seek and find the big picture before making decisions.  Simply identifying potential job description changes would allow staff to provide input before the final product is created.  Balanced processing is leveraged to build trust, encourage professional growth for direct reports and provides a foundational and reliable decision-making process.  It also signals all opinions are valued and expected.  The concept eliminates personal bias from the decision-making process, everyone in the organization has input prior to the final decision.  Again, people are more important than the job description!

I continue to promote the authentic leadership model because it can help create positive workplace outcomes and improve organizational performance.  It may also stop workplace turnover and get me off this overworked soapbox!

Okay, I’m dropping the microphone and stepping down from my soapbox. 😊

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How does your work environment ensure people are not overlooked?  Does your leadership put job descriptions ahead of the people doing the job?  (Please respond in the comments section below—thanks!)

“It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team”.

(Stephen Covey)

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