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2011: The Year of Leadership at Bailey WorkPlay

I love the “end of year” time, particularly the week wedged between Christmas and New Years. Everything sort of slows down and encourages the traditional opportunities for reflection that come at year’s end. This year, I threw myself headlong into some heavy reflection about the purpose of Bailey WorkPlay and its relationship to my current work. I don’t know about you, but a lot changed for me in 2010. Among other things, I made a transition from start-up business owner to job seeker to my present position as a corporate marketing manager. And with all these changes, I – perhaps inevitably – had a rather scattershot focus throughout the year.

Let’s do something different this year. I’ve always had a passion for leadership and the work it takes to be a better leader in both attitude and action. That’s why I’ve decided the theme for 2011 will be Leadership. Don’t worry…the main topics of marketing, customer experience, and organizational culture will still be the primary focus of this blog and Bailey WorkPlay. We’ll just look at them primarily through the lens of leadership. What does this mean? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure yet, and that’s okay. We’ll explore this together. Here are some of the issues and questions I have in mind:

Marketing
The practice of marketing has changed significantly over the past few years. How can a leadership-focused marketing approach change how we communicate with customers and prospects?

Customer Experience
If a terrific customer experience is so vital to business health, why do so many businesses still struggle to make it happen? How would a leadership-focused effort improve the relationship between customer and business? And are there parallels between customer experience and an improved employee experience?

Organizational Culture
As an anthropologist, I believe culture is a wonderfully complex thing. It’s not something that can be controlled or engineered; rather, it can be merely guided. What role does leadership play in guiding the cultures within our organizations?

You have a part to play here, too. What questions do you have related to leadership? What problems do you face in executing marketing strategy or creating a better customer experience that would be improved with a stronger leadership focus? I hope that we have the opportunity to co-create something here together that makes our selves and our organizations even more successful in 2011. If you’re on Twitter, we’ll be using the hashtag #Leadership2011.

I can’t wait to get this year started. Let’s make it a great one together.

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Mistakes Happen…

…it’s how we deal with mistakes that count. The universe must want me to learn something important because within 30 hours, two distinct situations occurred to illustrate this point. In one instance, I was on the mistake-maker side and in the second instance I was on the receiving end of someone else’s mistake. And in both cases, I’m not at all sure that I handled the mistakes well. Here’s another installment of my not-so-newly created series called I Screw Up So You Don’t Have To.

Mistake #1: Chris as Mistake-Maker
I’m working with a client on several different projects, each one different in its complexity, scale, and timeframe. It’s a client that I like and enjoy working with. And I feel that we have a good working relationship. We first discussed these projects back in November and I worked on them up through December. Then I took a two week holiday retreat and promptly neglected this client’s work when I returned. It wasn’t intentional and the work wasn’t entirely forgotten – it just took a back seat to other work that felt more pressing these past few weeks.

You’re probably thinking it’s not too surprising that I received rather curt and angry voicemail and email messages on Friday asking for an immediate update. My apology was met with, “That does me no good. What are you going to do? I expect a full accounting by Tuesday.” Now, I have a client who undoubtedly feels pissed and betrayed…and truly for good reason.

Mistake #2: Chris as Mistake-Receiver

The next day, I took the family to one of our favorite local pizza joints for dinner. We ordered a small cheese pizza for the girls and a medium meateaters for Carrie and me. Around 15 minutes later, our server showed up with the meateaters, but no cheese. We all thought that maybe he’d be right back to bring the cheese pizza. A couple of minutes passed and it becomes clear that a cheese pizza is not coming. So I visited the register and asked about the cheese pizza. I got blank, confused looks in return. There was no cheese pizza. Now, I’m starting to get pissed and insisted that they need to get moving on making the pizza that I paid for. Then, one of the folks from behind the counter came and asked me again whether I paid for a pizza and asked me to confirm the size, crust, toppings, political affiliation, next-of-kin, etc. He said, “We’re just trying to track down this order.” Okay, now I’m definitely pissed. He’s here trying to track down an order rather than make the actual damn pizza. I make my second trip to the counter and discover that apparently the cheese pizza was not included in the original order (but it should have been because the gal taking the order asked me what type of crust we wanted). The kick in the pants was the fact they still charged me $2.64 even though I argued that I should not be charged at all.

Roughly 13 minutes later, the gal who took our original order brought the pizza and apologized. She said, “I didn’t do it on purpose.” The thing was that she was right. She didn’t intentionally screw up and I told her so.

So, what’s the learning here?

Learning #1: Be more forgiving of mistakes. Rarely does someone screw up on purpose…that would be blatant and willful sabotage. Yeah, sometimes screw ups are due to incompetence or lack of care on the part of another person. But more often than not, mistakes are made for more innocent reasons. I guess at the root of how we view mistakes is whether we believe people are good or bad. And what I need to remember is that perfection is bullshit and I’m immensely capable of screwing things up at a moment’s notice. It’s the whole glass house thing.

Learning #2: Accept the mistake and move forward. Coming back to my intro, mistakes happen and it’s what we do after the mistake that matters most. If we screw up yet blow it off, then we’ve compounded the mistake by not taking ownership and figuring out how to make things right. Imagine my reaction if the pizza folks had – rather than try to make it into my problem – quickly said they would bring us a free cheese pizza and some breadsticks for the girls while they waited. For my client, I now have the job of determining what her “breadsticks” are.

Learning #3: Be more emotionally-aware. Being on the mistake-maker side, I understand my client’s emotions. She’s angry and frustrated because I’ve put her in a bad spot with her executives and board members. However, there’s a part of me that’s a bit embarrassed by my behavior as a mistake-receiver. There are times when I allow my emotions to get the better of me and raise more hell than I should to get what I want. Even those of us who coach and advise others on how to best navigate professional relationships are challenged to heed our own words. See learning #1 above.

Learning #4: Keep the focus on learning. This post is my example of learning from mistakes. It’s my way of reflecting on what I can do better in the future. Mistakes aren’t bad…they’re essential if we choose to grow. If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough. So, let’s keep learning.

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Standing At The Gates Of Janus

I really try not to do this…yet, it’s inevitable, isn’t it? I try to convince myself that the calendar is just an artificial construct and that I can do this exercise at any point in time. I don’t need the little clock sitting at the bottom left on my computer’s taskbar to read 12/31 in order to prod me toward a heightened state of reflection. I don’t want to feel a slave to the chaps who conjured up our Gregorian calendar. But then…who am I kidding? This time of year just cries out for a rearview/frontview perspective. So here I pay my debt to Janus and seek his help to bring the current state of Bailey WorkPlay into focus.

Defining Influences of 2007
Losing two grandfathers. While intensely personal, both losses have impacted my professional focus in different ways. Papop Starr’s life was one of art, charity, love, family…I could really go on. He will live forever through his legacy and its an inspiration that I hold dear. Grandpa Bailey’s life was one of hard work, education, faith, family…again I could go on. His gift to me is a reminder that this life is a gift and the time we have here on this earth is precious. It’s not to be forsaken or taken for granted. In their death, I find my love for life.

Working life in the corporate world. Yep, it’s still quite an influence. This was my first full year playing in the laboratory of the corporate world. It’s different from the nonprofit world and yet not that different at all. The same organizational, communication, leadership, and management challenges exist regardless of the tax status. This year provided all the proof I need that there’s a place for my work with Bailey WorkPlay. Look for more details on new services in the coming weeks.

Helping my wife through a career crisis. Watching someone you dearly love go through a career crisis truly defines your own sense of what work can be (and what it should never be). There’s nothing quite so miserable as feeling trapped in a hopeless spot that just isn’t going to get better no matter how hard you try. Her experience is a cautionary tale about the need to follow your intuition and truly listen to your inner voice. It also clarified my passion for helping folks create work they love and helping organizations build strong cultures that emphasize humanity while still making a profit.

Deciding to crank things up professionally. Each of these items (and a smattering of other minor influences) have provided me with the appropriate degree of fuel needed to move from the sidelines back into the big game. I’ve been gunshy about putting myself out there. I keep asking what if I fall on my ass? But you know what…that’s just crap that I tell myself to keep me safe. Yeah, safe and unfulfilled. Now it’s time to risk again, fall on my ass if necessary, but pick myself up and dust myself off. Simple, but not easy. But then again, what’s really worth doing that’s easy? The growth is in the challenges.

Aspirations for 2008
Cranking things up means envisioning some really bold aspirations for this new year. And by putting them out here in the open for all to see, I’m making a commitment to each of them.

I will be putting greater distinctions on Bailey WorkPlay and The Alchemy of Soulful Work. Up to now it’s been somewhat confusing. Is Bailey WorkPlay the name of the blog? What exactly is The Alchemy of Soulful Work, then? It’s okay…I’ve been confused, too. Early in 2008, you’ll start to see a better delineation between the two concepts. Bailey WorkPlay is the name of my service organization focused on coaching, consulting, and facilitation. I’ll be working with individuals who are unfulfilled with their J-O-B and want to align their purpose with their work. I’ll also be working with organizations – primarily nonprofits and small businesses – who are tired of struggling with stagnant work cultures and want to improve their people systems. The Alchemy of Soulful Work is the title of my blog and online laboratory for ideas, reflections, and practical advice.

I will accelerate the growth of the Alchemy of Soulful Work. I will take my current subscriber base (somewhere around 100 folks) and increase it to 1000 subscribers by the end of 2008. And because I believe that comments are absolutely important to creating a healthy blog community, the Alchemy of Soulful Work will have 1000 comments by the end of the year, too. As soon as I find some good widgets to track these metrics, I’ll insert them on this site so everyone can track progress and participate in the success.

Oh, and by the way…I finally registered www.alchemyofsoulfulwork.com. So, there are two ways to get to Bailey WorkPlay and Alchemy of Soulful Work.

I will be far more visible. When I think about visibility, I think about activities in addition to blogging and my online site. So, what better way to get visible than to speak and write? This year, I will secure at least two speaking gigs and publish an article for a print magazine or newspaper. I will also continue to contribute to Career Hub and guest blog at other spots.

I will step further outside my front door. I plan to travel more outside the city limits of Austin, TX. It’s been easy to keep close to home but now it’s time to venture beyond my borders again. I have several reasons to visit areas in the US Northeast, Washington DC, Chicago IL, Atlanta GA, and Southern California. Hopefully, this will give me a chance to meet more of you for the first time or have a chance to see you again. While there’s much that can be shared through email, phone, and blogging, there’s even more that can be gained by sitting with a cup of coffee and chatting.

I will rededicate myself to reading. I read surprisingly few books in 2007 and I think this was one reason why my blogging was a little less dynamic this past year (or at least it’s what my vocal internal critic points out to me). I aim to read at least 15 books this year, which for a slow reader like me is quite a bit. I’ll continue to keep up with my blogreading through Google Reader and maintain my subscription to Harvard Business Review.

Whew! Looks like I’m going to have a busy, productive, and fulfilling 2008. What about you? Even if you don’t get wrapped up in the whole New Year’s resolution game, I hope you take a few moments to reflect on what this past year has meant to you. What events influenced who you are right now? And what do you aspire to be in this next year?

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