Emotions are our Power Tools

Okay, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a drill or a reciprocating saw, because like most of my colleagues, I spend most of my time at a computer. The flipside is that at work, I have been amazed by Microsoft’s Power BI functionality with managing metadata. It’s a power tool for geeks that turn’s information overload into useful insights. This got me to thinking about another power tool that is built into all of us. Our emotions. Before you tune me out, let me explain how emotional intelligence can help us live out our values of resilience, care, integrity, courage and even excellence. I’m not encouraging us to allow our emotions to take center stage, but I do want us to see our emotions as data. When we do this, they can become our power tools for reengagement, creativity, and enjoyment at work.

Emotional intelligence relates to self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal skills, decision making, and stress management. Research has linked these competencies to effective leadership because emotions are what makes us human. However, in business we are generally expected leave our emotions at the door. We see being emotive as bad, but the truth is that we still have feelings whether we acknowledge them or not. When we suppress them, they only become stronger, and we lose the ability to deal with a situation as it really is. When we pay attention to our emotions, they can provide data on what’s important to us and help us to understand ourselves and others. More importantly they can help us define actions connected to our values to respond to what’s creating the emotions.

How do we put our emotions to work? Our thoughts drive our emotions and subsequently our actions. When we sit with our emotions and label them correctly, we can figure out what is making us feel that way. Instead of just saying “I’m stressed,” consider if you’re disappointed, dreading something, or overwhelmed. Doing the analysis to understand the emotion is the first step to decisive action. A critical element of human performance is learning to manage our thoughts. As humans we must rely on both “fast” thinking, which is helpful in everyday decisions to leverage our experience and “slow” thinking, which is more controlled, curious, and strategic to deal with more complex situations. We must resist the natural flight, fight, or freeze response to negative emotions and find the courage to examine our thinking. One of my favorite sayings is change your thinking, change your life (Brian Tracy).

In my own career, there was a time when I was feeling powerless and not able to change a negative relationship with my manager. My first instincts were to flee from the situation as fast as I could. However, I really liked my job and I felt like I was making a positive impact on the organization. When I shifted my thinking from “I need this job, so I have to accept being miserable” to “I have options, but I choose to be here because I like my job,” there was an immediate change in my relationship with my manager. I had the courage to address the behaviors and work challenges that were making us both less effective as leaders. Furthermore, as a leader, I learned to pay more attention to my colleagues and to push through awkward emotional interactions to better understand the situation at hand. I learned to listen more and to notice emotional cues. For example, if I asked, “How are you?” I waited for a response and looked to see if it was consistent with the body language I was seeing.

Emotions are not good or bad. They are tools that can be used by anyone who wants to influence human behavior. Accepting that we are emotional beings is the foundation for resilience. It improves your perception of yourself and your ability to express yourself which enables personal integrity and excellence. Good interpersonal skills are necessary for demonstrating care and concern for the well-being of others. Finally, building these emotional intelligence competencies takes the courage to act with conviction based on data. Emotions make us powerful. If you still have doubts, call me.

 

Becoming a Mental Wellbeing Champion

Today is World Mental Health Day and I’m here for it! I’m working on becoming a mental wellbeing champion because I can relate to dealing with work hurt during my career and still finding purpose in the everyday. Learning that another colleague had just resigned made me sad because I had seen their struggle. It also made me determined to do more. There is a lot of research on well-being and the power of positive psychology, however, my desire is to be a champion by being more vulnerable. So, I’ll start with sharing how I manage my own mental well-being.

First, the need for a sense of belonging is real and human. I satisfy this need by creating community at work. Whether it’s my work team or my BEST friends, or the extended network across the corporation developed over my 32 years with the company, I try to be intentional about getting to know people and letting them know me as a person. Not everyone that I’ve worked with has become a friend, but I can truly say that I’ve found a true friend with each assignment that I’ve had. We spend a lot of time at work and all you really need is just one person to make your work life fun.

Second, having a sense of purpose gives me perspective. I truly believe that that God has put me in each assignment and that the job is secondary to His purpose for me. Leadership is a high calling and I believe that you can lead from any seat at the table with authenticity and empathy. This perspective helps me to look at my work differently and to remember that nothing that happens to me is by chance. I look for the opportunity to serve through my daily work and that keeps me grounded.

Finally, I remember that things will generally work out in the end for my benefit without me worrying. Every time I’ve had a setback or difficult situation, I’ve learned from it and grown in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I’ve been labeled “high potential” and I’ve been considered someone who “needs improvement” but I didn’t allow either of those perceptions of me to define me. My IQ didn’t change based on my performance assessment, neither did my work ethic or sense of personal accountability for doing my job. My self-worth is based on knowing who I am, my values, and my connection to a higher power.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending an award ceremony to celebrate with our two ExxonMobil finalists for the Ally Energy’s Annual Grit Awards. Ally defines GRIT as growth, resilience, innovation, and talent. Each of these is necessary for mental well-being. However, Angela Duckworth in her book, GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, says that grit is the ability to persevere in the face of setbacks and disappointments, and to strive to improve even amid success. One of the most powerful insights in the book is that grit can be learned, regardless of IQ or circumstances and that any effort you make ultimately counts twice towards achieving your goal. If your goal is to have a fulfilling career that allows you to work with amazing people and do some very interesting and valuable work, that can be done. It just takes grit!

Leading with Care

Tips for employee reengagement

Every where I turn, people are stressed out at work. Unfortunately, the underlying cause is often that they don’t feel valued or don’t feel like leaders are concerned about their wellbeing. What’s interesting is that caring leadership has been linked to increased organizational commitment, heightened workplace self-esteem, and improved organizational performance. It struck me, however, that having care as a core value is only impactful if leaders understand what care looks like in action. I was reminded of something I learned studying Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. That is people feel loved in different ways and they tend to express love based on their own love language. We should learn to show love based on the recipient’s love language. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you doesn’t actually work. It takes a bit more effort to understand what care looks like to someone else but here are 5 tips for demonstrating the language of care:

1. Mutual respect – Empowered employees feel like they have more control over their work lives. The days of ‘father knows best’ in a patriarchal company culture are over. Employees want to and should be treated as mature adults. This means engaging them in decisions that affect their future and providing them with the resources that allow them to be effective. However, in the words of Aretha, you should find out what respect means to the individual.

2. Meaningful work – Challenging and meaningful work gives purpose and a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Ideally, each assignment should include an opportunity to demonstrate skills and knowledge as well as to learn and grow. Studies have shown that some people prioritize meaning over happiness. The leader who cares wants employees to feel like they are doing something to further the mission of the organization. Helping people have a line of sight between their work and the company mission is an act of caring.

3. Compassionate feedback- words of appreciation don’t have to be in conflict with constructive feedback. Recognizing that someone is working hard demonstrates care for their effort. Difficult feedback conversations are necessary for learning and development but helpful constructive feedback is rare. By being clear that your intentions are to help them grow as a professional, the feedback is more easily received and you show that you care with words of affirmation for their efforts. Some employees thrive on verbal expressions of appreciation.

4. Flexible time – Making time for family, friends, and fun can be difficult when the pressure is on at work. Recognizing signs of burnout and fatigue is a way to show care and concern for an employee’s well being. Flexible work policies allow leaders to provide time off or allow people to work from home as needed to balance work and life. For some employees the gift of time is the best way to show you care.

5. Rewards & Recognition – Salary increases are always good and knowing that you’re paid competitively is important to almost everyone. However, expressing appreciation throughout the year for meeting goals and reaching milestones is also a way to demonstrate care. Thoughtful gifts and gestures mean a lot to people who need tangible tokens of thoughtfulness.

At the end of the day, people don’t care about what you know unless they also know that you care. Let’s lead with care by getting to know our people and demonstrating it based on what they value.

By the way, what’s your care language? Mine is flexible time!

EMPATHY is the key to I&D

I recently wrote that I needed more than ally in order to feel included and valued as an employee in the workplace. It wasn’t that being an ally was bad, it’s just because it falls short of the need to make my struggle your struggle. The only way that significant sustained progress will happen is for the objectives of inclusion and diversity to be personal. We mostly care about things that matter personally.

The ability to demonstrate empathy is a core competency of emotional intelligence. Fortunately, empathy is a skill that can be learned. Caring builds the empathy muscle and it’s a value that needs to be practiced every day to really master it. In a course called “Living Undivided,” I learned that when you really care you will:

C– choose to allow someone else’s experience into your heart,

A– Acknowledge that their feelings are valid,

R– Recognize the emotion in their experience, and

E– engage and lean in to seek a deeper understanding.

In a meeting to discuss how to build capability within our talent pools, a manager (who I will call Steve) asked why he never heard about any employees from a certain country when discussing executive development. He always heard about the great talent in that country and how much they were contributing but none had been identified with executive potential to date. Just his question started a flurry of activity. Contacts were made within minutes to ensure there were meetings to discuss their potential and development needs. Suggestions were recommended to make sure that there were no arbitrary limits put on their potential (and there were) and steps were taken to make sure a review was planned as soon as possible of the top talent in that country. More leaders should be like Steve. He is more that just an ally.

One Employee Resource Group (ERG), has a senior manager who went to bat to make sure they didn’t lose traction in their mentoring program while waiting on the corporate program. They tested to see where there would still be gaps and aligned their program to make sure that everyone in the organization got the additional feedback and support provided by mentors for their development. Recognizing that their voice carried weight, they leaned in to make sure members of the organization didn’t fall through the cracks because mentoring has been proven to help minorities and women succeed.

At an individual level, caring is staying after work to discuss strategies for balancing work demands with the challenges of being a single parent. It can also be inviting someone on your team who doesn’t look like you to your home or visiting them at their home to get to know them and their family. It can be giving the gift of feedback to someone you know is struggling to understand why they aren’t doing as well as their peers when they are working twice as hard but you know it’s behavioral.

I certainly don’t have all the answers but I do know that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Let’s stop trying to be validated and start being the type of humans others want to be around at work — people who care.

28 May 2022

I Need More Than an Ally

I think it is awesome that there are many allies within Black employee networks and other minority employee resource groups within corporations. It’s a proactive way to show support and make a statement regarding the importance of inclusion and diversity.  However, in my humble opinion, this falls short of what is really needed to move the needle with respect to equitable representation at all levels and creating a culture that embraces the unique strengths of our employees regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. What we really need are leaders and employees who form an alliance to achieve the aspirational culture defined by the company’s I&D mission statement.  An alliance recognizes the combined strength of its partners to advance both the collective and individuals.

As business-minded individuals, we all understand the need to move from continuous improvement and incremental innovation to strategic and step-change innovative actions to win in an increasingly competitive global economy. Yet, the same is true of our I&D efforts. The time has come for us to do more than meet the minimum requirements.  It’s time to put action to our well-crafted words of support for inclusion and diversity. Not because you want to meet a target. Not because it’s the right thing to do. Because creating an inclusive environment for a globally diverse workplace is a competitive advantage. Leveraging all the talent within your company is the only way to get a great return on the investment made in recruiting them. However, it is only when I&D is personal that we can bring about sustainable changes. 

Let me explain. When I joined the workforce thirty years ago, there were very few women and those who were here then spent a lot of time focusing on assimilation (e.g. trying to fit into a very male-shaped mold). However, I noticed a significant shift when the wives and daughters of our executives started complaining about the challenges they were facing in the workplace. All of a sudden, work-life balance, childcare, and flexible work became important to the men in power. Because it became personal. When someone you know and care about is struggling, you want to do everything in your power to help them out. These weren’t uncaring men. It just took a while for women’s issues to become their issues.

In a recent conversation with a diverse group on racial equality, I was curious as to why a group of late-career or retired white men and women cared about the topic.  Once I learned that they were either an immigrant to the U.S., in a biracial relationship, or had biracial grandchildren, it all clicked.  Before that, other races were just that, other. When something doesn’t concern you, it doesn’t mean you don’t care. It’s just not something you think about on a day-to-day basis. I understand that. However, our success as a species depends heavily on our ability to care about the entire human race. This is what the generation entering the workplace today sees more clearly than the baby boomers who made little progress in this space since shortly after the civil rights movement. I’m with them. I care about more than just my family, my community, and those who I know personally.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Likewise, we must learn to work together, look out for each other, and champion one another for us to create true inclusion. Allies should not be my competition because we are on the same team. Because we care, our mission should be to do all that we can to break down silos in the workplace and help the next generation to succeed where we could not.  As an alliance, we can work together to tap into the strengths and capabilities of all the amazing people that we hire and channel their collective energy into building better companies, better work environments, and a better world. When we leverage the capabilities of the entire diverse workforce and make everyone feel valued, we all win.

Let’s form an I&D alliance

A Global Perspective on Race Matters

Celebrating Diversity with Valeria Edmonds

My identity has been shaped by being a baby-boomer born in the deep south and raised as a staunch southern Baptist who has worked for over 25 years in a large multinational corporation and is now living and working in the Middle East. At heart, I still consider myself a country girl from Memphis who spent summers as a child playing in the dirt, shelling peas with my grandmother, and eating homemade ice cream on the fourth of July. Never in their wildest dreams would my grandparents imagine that the skinny knock-kneed little girl they knew and loved would become a global leader who’s traveled to over 50 countries and interacted with men at the highest echelons of business. However, my journey has given me a wonderfully broad perspective on equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Why Does This Matter 

Living at the intersection of race and gender equality has taught me how to survive in an environment with the odds stacked against me. Black women often attribute their lack of advancement to the fact that it’s challenging to find sponsorship in their organizations because they have trouble relating to those with whom they work (Cheeks, 2018). However, I now see more challenges as it relates to economic disparities. What helps me stay grounded is remembering my modest beginnings. It helps me to relate to people at all ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. When I am transparent and openly share my experiences with other leaders, it helps us both to find things that we have in common and not dwell on our differences. This helps us to see each other’s humanity. I find they then treat me as an individual rather than as a member of a group that they don’t understand or relate to.    

The study of intersectionality is an emerging body of research that looks at implications of having multiple areas for potential discrimination. As an HR professional, I’m obliged to help business leaders by identifying the factors that help or hinder people from fully engaging to achieve their strategic objectives. I believe that understanding and focusing on intersectionality is key to engage the hearts of minds of your entire workforce. The concept of intersectionality should make the goals of anti-racism and social justice relatable to most everyone. There is always a connection to be made.

Tell Me More

Globalization has made the world a much smaller place, and global leaders need more than diversity training to lead today’s multinational workforce. I have had the honor and pleasure of working in the State of Qatar for the last six years, and it has taught me a lot about leading multicultural teams. The capital city of Doha is one of the most diverse places to live and work. Because the country is dependent on labor from around the world, only 30% of the workforce are nationals, and virtually every workgroup is a multicultural team. The critical lessons on equity, diversity, and inclusion that I will bring back to the USA from this experience are:   

When you need and have the resources to get the best talent, you will seek it out regardless of race, nationality, or gender.People can and do have pride in their home country’s culture as well as respect for other cultures. Nationals and expats are all proud of Qatar and invested in its success.People will naturally gravitate to others from their home country outside of work, and that’s okay. People need to create and feel a sense of community for psychological safety.People will make enormous sacrifices for work opportunities and a livable wage at the expense of being away from their families for long periods.The American passport has privileges that we take for granted and often don’t even realize. I’m not identified as primarily African American or Black outside of the USA. I’m an American first.

Bottom Line

Historical approaches to improving diversity and inclusion in USA companies have not resulted in much success during my thirty-year career. According to a recent diversity statistics report by Sapling (2020), 68 percent of C-level executives are white men, and by comparison, only 4 percent are women of color. I’ve seen the focus shift from affirmative action to diversity, then to inclusion and diversity, to building awareness of unconscious bias: all to get managers and employees to embrace and champion equity in hiring and progression of minorities. 

Unfortunately, as Dr. King noted in the famous letter from a Birmingham jail, “it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily” (2018). Attention to diversity issues can and does cause resentment from those who operate from a scarcity mentality. The size of the pie is finite, and there are always winners and losers in their minds. Systemic problems require systemic solutions. Therefore, to improve the statistics, we must have a multi-pronged approach with strategic objectives at an individual, team, organizational, and societal level. 

 Individuals must not only be made aware of their conscious and unconscious bias. Still, they must also be accountable for their actions. This is especially true of leaders within organizations who make decisions that impact people’s livelihood.Diverse teams are proven to be more effective, so leaders must be intentional about demonstrating inclusive behaviors. Leading by example to identify and address the specific challenges of intersectionality within their teams.Organizations must work to address the policies and practices that create systemic bias. They should have equity, diversity, and inclusion as part of their strategic business objectives.Societal ills impact organizations and shape the cultural environment that we live and work within. As people of character, we can and should strive to usher in a new millennium.

I’m still just a country girl from Tennessee. Yet, my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of a more equitable and just workplace. It’s time for us to align our actions with our espoused values. By working together, we can achieve a better world and drive organizational success. There is room for all of us to succeed.

References

Cheeks, M. (2018). How Black Women Describe Navigating Race and Gender in the Workplace. Harvard Business Review.https://hbr.org/2018/03/how-black-women-describe-navigating-race-and-gender-in-the-workplace

King, M. L. (2018, February). Letter From Birmingham Jail – The Atlantic. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/02/letter-from-a-birmingham-jail/552461/

Sapling. (2020). Diversity and Inclusion Statistics You Must Know in 2020. https://www.saplinghr.com/blog/diversity-and-inclusion-statistics-you-must-know-in-2020

Thriving Late in Your Career

I’ve reached the age and stage where most of my career is behind me. It wasn’t that long ago when I was on that hamster wheel working hard to progress and demonstrate my potential to senior management. The time went by so fast and it still surprises me that I’m now the oldest one in the room at every meeting. However, I’m still energized by the opportunity to add value by leveraging my thirty years of experience and developing the next generation of HR leaders. I thrive when I’m working in my areas of strength, I’m challenged intellectually, and I can tap into my passion for developing others. The truth is we all want to thrive regardless of our age and stage.

Unfortunately, many people get to this point in their careers and they are just biding their time until retirement. It’s so easy to slip into survival mode when you’re not inspired or motivated at work. Yet, we all have a choice. We can fight to remain valid while the world changes around us, we can retire on the job and wait until someone else makes the choice for us, or we can learn how to thrive. Thriving is not about being promoted or achieving a specific position, it’s being energized by knowing that you’re adding value. I’d like to recommend seven strategies for thriving well into the later years beyond eligibility to retire.

1. Focus on giving instead of getting. One of the seven habits of highly effective people is to look for the win/win. However, at this stage, our focus should be on helping others to win. Think of yourself as a servant and be generous with your time and information. I find that when others win, we all win.

2. Define your wheelhouse. By this age, you know what you’re good at and what motivates you. Consider what inspires you and what you’re passionate about. When you are thriving your performance is outstanding because you are leveraging your strengths.

3. Clarify how you add value. By knowing and communicating what you bring to the table. Be intentional about communicating how you contribute and volunteering to do work in those areas. Opportunity won’t knock unless there is a door.

4. Rebrand yourself as a consultant. Your wisdom is valuable. Every business challenge can benefit from understanding the historical context for the problem. You are a living encyclopedia of knowledge so become a trusted advisor. Describe yourself as an internal consultant.

5. Invest in the success of others. Look for ways to train others in the areas where you are highly skilled. This is an opportunity to create a lasting legacy within the organization.

6. Practice contentment. If you constantly focused on getting more, you’ll never have enough. Learn the art of gratitude and you’ll find more contentment with life and all of the things you’ve enjoyed along the way.

7. Manage your energy not your time. Balance is elusive. However, you learn when and what your body needs over time. Eat healthy snacks. Get plenty of rest. Plan your leave based on things that restore your energy. When you manage your energy, you find you have more time to do the important things.

This is my list of things that help me to keep thriving. It’s no longer about the job itself. It’s about having the right mindset. Let’s set our intentions on continuing to thrive because life isn’t over yet!

Ethical Leadership

I was recently asked to share a view on the intersection of morals, ethics and values. After much consideration and research, I came up with a framework that has helped me understand what’s required for ethical leadership.

You see, our morals or beliefs about what’s right or wrong are based on societal or cultural influences, religious teaching, and/or parental guidance. These beliefs provide our moral foundation and are difficult to change. They become hardwired like our DNA. Because I was raised in a southern Baptist household in the Bible-belt of the USA, most of my beliefs are based on scripture. When I have a question about what’s right or wrong, I go to the Bible as my source of truth. Others may rely on a different source of truth but most major religions have very similar tenants about integrity, love and concern for humanity.

Our values are the few prioritized beliefs that drive our behavior. Most of us have a few moral truths that take precedent over all other beliefs and evoke strong emotions when violated. For instance, if integrity is a personal value, you will likely be angry when lied to. If family is a personal value, you might go into debt if a relative is in need or become anxious if you haven’t talked to a sibling in a while. Alignment of personal values between individuals is how strong relationships are established. Alignment between personal values and corporate values, is how strong organizational cultures are created. Yet there is a difference between espoused values and lived values. Personal integrity is when our decisions or choices are aligned with our beliefs and values.

Ethics is related to this decision making process regarding what’s right or wrong. When we are living our truth, I believe, we are happier and more productive. However, because everyone’s moral compass is different, we are sometimes faced with ethical dilemmas. These are situations where there is no clear right or wrong based on our beliefs of the decision for the greater good conflicts with our personal beliefs.

Leaders are responsible for making decisions that affect others. They must choose the direction which will create a better future for all stakeholders. This means providing an ethical compass within organizations. There will be tough choices and ethical dilemmas. Others may disagree on what’s right. That’s okay; that’s leadership. Ethical leadership requires knowing your values and living your truth.

A Leader of No Reputation

“Whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17 (NLT)

Yes, you are amazing! My sister, you are regal and your confidence comes from knowing whose you are not who you are. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are a black woman in a white man’s world having the audacity to think of herself as a leader! Let me remind you that Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). How far can you climb before they recognize your strength and your grace under pressure and feel threatened? What approach will they use to put you in your place? It matters not what they think or what they do. We serve a higher power. We have on the whole armor of God and praise is our battle cry. We know with certainty that we were made in the image of our creator and that there is a purpose for our existence. So go on with your bad self! Speak boldly into the darkness. Shine the light on evil. You were made to rule and have dominion over this earth. Not as an owner who seeks to dominate, but as a steward who knows that the earth is the Lord’s and all the fullness of it. We nurture it as a mother nurtures her child with no need for praise or even acknowledgment. If they never say thank you. If they never recognize the love that spills over from your cup. If they never give you a title or even call you by name. If they never acknowledge your glorious beauty. God sees you! He sees you and he loves you dearly.

Written by Valeria Edmonds 20 September 2018