Category Archives: Managing Self

On Change & Transitions: Make Your Change Work For You!

chMarriage/divorce, relocation/migration, critical illness, new job or starting a business, are just a few of the important life events that one may have to deal with at some point in their lives. If you’re lucky, you may only have to deal with just one of these life events, and hopefully one that you choose. Sadly, sometimes, and for some people, the circumstances are never that easy, and they don’t ever get to choose. Regardless of who you are, how strong you are, your situation, dealing with any of these life events can be a potential “deal breaker or game changer”, fundamentally altering life as you know it, and sometimes-forever. Life events have the potential to derail people, or place them on a path towards actualizing their personal and professional dreams and goals. Whichever the case, the range of emotions that people experience during, and after any of these life events might include: fear, sadness, confusion, doubt, uncertainty or happiness, hope, excitement and fulfillment. So how does one manage these challenging periods of transitions? How does one cope with the far-reaching changes which life events produce?

chaIn 2012, I made the decision to migrate to the United States. This decision meant I would opt to leave my solid job (Nearly 10 years), my homesweethome, my friends, my native country, and life as I knew it, to start over all in a whole new big world. I recall many of my friends, and co- workers expressing congratulatory sentiments. and well wishes, amidst the sad expressions/ sentiments about being sorry to see me go. All were confident of my continued success, and encouraged me to continue to do my best. Like many other people  who have also made this decision,(Some say brave and courageous step), I also recall feeling some trepidation about the move, wondering whether I would successful, whether I would like it, whether I was doing the best thing etc. At the same time, I brimmed with hope, and excitement about the move, and the possibilities of fulfilling my personal and professional dreams.

chgAs with any major life event, adjustments are inevitable. Managing the changes that come along , and making the transition is never seamless. For the  process of change is often times painful and difficult as challenges and uncertainty  abound. For me though, everything has not gone according to plan,  there have been many detours and significant strides. I have had to totally re-invent myself, re-position my skills, adjust my mindset to consider other opportunities that are not directly related to my background, to effectively navigate my current environment. I have learnt that, it is one thing to be successful in your own country where you have many advantages (by virtue of just citizenship), or the ready knowledge and understanding of how everything works. But, establishing yourself in a totally new and different country, with a different culture and climate, coupled with the pressure of competing with people who are equally, or much more qualified than you, for the same employment opportunities, is no easy feat. There are barriers everywhere (Tangible and intangible), yet at the same time, there are limitless opportunities that I didn’t have, might not have thought of, or known of before.

chgaLike many other people in this situation, I spent many waking moments doing research, and trying to figure out how to position my skills and experience, acquire new skills/certification, and brand myself (Read related post on Branding) for an international market, to enable me to find employment opportunities commensurate with my education, skills and background. I found that, my previous experiences and exposures  mattered, but , only to the extent that I was able to show solid employment and work history. In this new environment, I was an “unknown quantity and quality”. My ability to prove that my skills and experiences were relevant and  transferable became even more paramount.

In managing this  life event and trying to make this change work for me, I have learnt some important  lessons, and gained some  new insights that might prove useful to persons grappling with how to make the change work for them, or how to effectively manage the transition periods in their lives. As such, The tips I’m sharing for managing life events are not exhaustive. They might apply to one life event more than another, and might not apply to some persons but not all.

  1.  Have a vision and make it clear: This simply means you need to plan and have a plan (in your head and down on paper). The phrase-“fail to plan or plan to fail”,  is true. Your plan should clearly answer the 5Ws and H questions, i.e .Who, What Where, When, Why and How? This  is key since even the best laid plans may go awry. However, having  S.M.A.R.T. goals will help you to organize yourself, clarify your short to long-term goals and prioritize key activities. Having a clear vision will also help you to communicate your brand to the people  you seek help from, and help them steer you in the right direction.
  2. Build and establish a new network: The fact is, your network of friends, family and professional connections, might no longer be just a drive away or readily accessible. And even if they are, they might not be able to help you in your new environment, to the extent to that you might need support. The world works differently from place to place, and you will need to establish yourself in your new environment and in your field. One strategy I found hugely beneficial in my move was, doing informational interviews. These interviews enabled me to connect with new people, professionals in my field, understand how the industry functioned, as each person I met with, referred me to, or connected me with other professionals.
  3.  Develop and lean on your support system: Whereas one can reasonably expect support from family and friends, help can come from the most unlikely places and people. Continue to believe in the generosity of the human spirit. If you need help, ask for it. People are and can be generous with their times, resources and connections. So be kind and polite to the people you meet, and help and support others when and where you can. Some days will be better than others as you experience near hits, misses and curve balls coming at you from all sides. On other days your emotions will run high, and will need to step back, hear that encouraging word from a friend, or just  need someone to take the time to listen as you share your doubts and frustrations. Don’t be took hard on yourself, every experience is priceless
  4. Stay focused and positive: As you attempt to make the transition,  you will find that everyone will have an opinion on what you do,  or what you should be doing. This may apply to the kinds of jobs you should be seeking, where might be the best place to settle, or even how to prepare your resume (Omitting education and/or experience).It is wise  to listen to the advice your receive, but be careful of the advice  you accept. Surround yourself with positive people, for some persons might not be able to see your vision, or to even support it. To some people, your vision may seem too lofty, or vary too far from their own personal experiences and/or the expectations they hold for themselves. Therefore, it is most important  that you stay committed, know who you are, what you can do and what you are about. This will help you to stay focused on your own goals, and not accept the limits that  some people place on you, or  set  limits on yourself. Ultimately, it’s your life, your decision, your goal and  your dream.

Finally….Keep an Open Mind! Always Be Positive! The journey continues as long as your life does!


Images Courtesy of Google.

Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved












Volunteering: A Great Option For You!

“You discover yourself in losing yourself in the service of others”.Ghandi


All across the globe, people in every country, sector and of all ethnicities volunteer their time, and give their resources to help/support varied causes, events or efforts. But what exactly is volunteering? According to Wikipedia “Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life”. Today, people volunteer in the communities where they live and work, schools they attend (or those their children do), at church, or in regions being affected by natural disasters, political conflicts or economic challenges. As such, there are many established organizations, clubs, and societies, and companies that mobilize people/staff to get involved and take part in said initiatives.

Last week, I spent three days volunteering at my professional association, the American Society for Training & Development’s (ASTD) pre- conference workshops, held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC. These workshops were precursors to the real big event, which is the ASTD 2014 International Conference & Exposition which “brings the training and development industry to life”. This international conference brings together thousands of learning/training and development professionals from across the world to Washington, D.C., to share best practices and insights. And sure enough, I met learning and development professionals from government ministries in Jamaica, who were participating in the workshops and attending the conference. You can just imagine how happy and excited I was to see learning and professional representing from home, benefitting from the leading trends in learning and development. I am also equally confident and optimistic that, they will take back the tools and new insights gained, and use them to improve their learning and development solutions, thereby improving human performance across the public sector.

Having said all that, I will go back to the focus of this post, which is highlight a few of the many reasons everyone should volunteer:

1. Great way to show your brand, build your network and meet new people: As a relative transplant to the Washington DC Metro Area, I left my comfort zone and home (Jamaica) for a totally new country, and, some would say to start another chapter of my life. You could only imagine how daunting it was to, try to find a place in a whole new world, where a friend or colleague isn’t just a call or short drive away. One of the first things I did was to find my professional association, and become a member. On becoming a member, I was truly amazed at how dynamic the Metro DC-ASTD Chapter was. The Chapter has a myriad of program and opportunities to network with brilliant and talented colleagues in the field. But, the most surprising part came when I realized that, volunteers are the lifeline of organizations such as these. The varied programs and events are staffed by members with full-time and demanding jobs which they have to balance with their different roles. Yet, these members diligently volunteer to contribute to the development of their field. Over the following months, I was able to do many informational interviews (each person referred me to another) with peers, who helped me get “a lay of the land”, better understand the learning and development industry here, and guide my job search. As such, I can tell you truly that these opportunities made my transition to the USA much less challenging.

2. Fun way to learn: Not only did I have the amazing experiencing of meeting new people, exploring the city, engaging with like-minded peers and other wonderful volunteers, but I learnt a lot and got a huge boost to my ongoing professional development efforts. Over those 3 days, I benefitted immensely from the discussions, and conversations with learning partners (from all across the states and other parts of the world), as they shared their experiences, ideas and how the learning and development function works in their organizations. Therefore, I say kudos to the Designing Learning certificate program participants, and our most engaging and fun knowledgeable facilitator who has an amazing grasp of the content.

3. Awesome way to lend support/contribute to a cause/effort/event: My volunteering experience dates back to my days as an undergraduate at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona. As a participant in the Leadership Development Program, we were encouraged to find projects in the surrounding communities to lend our efforts to. Many of these projects positively changed the lives of children, the elderly, or just members of the various communities. As students we contributed to schools (donated computers, organized book drives, tutoring), helped in children/old age homes/visited orphaned by HIV-AIDS, or simply painted a pedestrian crossing. And though I wasn’t a member of clubs such as Kiwanis, Lions or Rotary, I saw the huge impact that the work of volunteers in those organization made, and how they changed lives. I also got to see the gratefulness of the people whose life were touched by those efforts, and the sense of fulfillment it gave the volunteers.


4. Effective way to practice and hone skills: “If you don’t use it, you lose it. I fancy myself a good writer with ways to go, and as such I am keen on improving my writing skills. When I declared my theme for this year -Increase 2014, I decided I would pursue opportunities to increase my skill in this area. So, as well as starting my Blog, I responded to a call for volunteers from the Metro DC-ASTD to join the Membership Outreach team. The team is responsible for recognizing noteworthy members of the chapter for feature in the chapter’s newsletter .In my role, I have the opportunity to interview selected members and write profiles which are published in the Beltway Bulletin. In doing this, I get to connect with and engage with talented new people, and practice my writing skills. And the best part of it is that, I don’t have to leave home (unless I want to), and it only takes a time commitment of about 6 hours a month (via phone or email).

5. Enhances your resume or prospects in your job search: I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you”. When you volunteer, you get a chance to meet and talk to people. People who you would probably never meet if you sat down at home doing nothing, or mindlessly submitting hundreds of resumes online. People know people, or may be able to give you the much-needed encouragement and leads , to help you in finding that “great opportunity”. And overtime, these people may become your friends or useful references that can attest to your work ethic and personality. I must also add that, volunteering is a great way to explain gaps in work history on your resume. So whether you’ve been unemployed voluntarily or involuntarily, being able to share with the interviewer(s), how you have used that time to continue your personal and professional development will be a huge plus.

6. Develops skills and builds experience: Recent college/university graduates often bemoan the absence of work experience, given the fact that, they have no work history. In addition to internships, volunteering presents a viable option for them to gain experience in their chosen field. By targeting companies and organizations, recent graduates can approach specific organizations/interest groups for opportunities to get hands on experience. However, it is important to note that, volunteering requires the same level of professionalism, dedication, positive attitude and work ethic that would attend a paid job. As such, the decision to volunteer should not be treated any less seriously. The soft skills gained from working in teams, communicating with internal and external customers/stakeholders, applying technical knowledge, can be used as excellent talking points in behavioral interviews, where you may be asked to share you STARs (Situation, Task, Action, Result) stories. And like I always say, there is no great difference between two good candidates with similar education and training. The main separator will be those attributes and experiences, which will enable you to show the interviewer(s) how you can add value to the organization.

So what are you are you waiting for? Go find your opportunity!

Images Courtesy of Google.

Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Perspective is Everything !

per4I recently watched a TEDX video, Dream Big, Live Small with Dee Williams, who shared how her illness and life changing experiences dramatically transformed her perspective on life and living.  She shared  about  how her fears about her  own mortality changed her perspective,  caused her to reflect on her life and make some drastic changes. These   changes  included selling her home and getting a much smaller home (some would say tiny one bedroom, 7 windows and 4 wheels) and also disposing of most of her belongings(limiting herself to about 300 possessions). As I listened to her story I marveled to myself – How deep, moving and thought-provoking? Though some of us could never envision making those far-reaching changes, her story caused me to ponder on the question, how much do we really need? As she continued  her talk, she asked, “If you were to die today, what new  purchase or possession would want to hold in your arms as you die? Which favorite place or space in your house could accommodate your last breath?”

imagesCA3QYKB5The powerful question on what possession I would want to hold in my arms as I died, truly resonated with me, and occupied my thoughts for a while. I couldn’t help thinking about how disconnected some of us have become from what truly matters in life. After mulling over the question, I could not think of any possession or item that I have, or hope to acquire, that I would want to hold in my arms as I die. The best I could come up with is that, I would want to hold my daughter or have her there. I don’t mean to sound morbid or depressing, but I think it was important enough for me (maybe you) to think about and share here in this post.

But as Dee Williams also pointed out, people don’t like to talk about their mortality, because we are uncomfortable with death. But seriously, what possession/item would you want to have in your arms when you die?

imagesCA1DFV2PI also can’t help thinking about how the spirit of materialism and consumerism have come to drive our lifestyles and  influence our perspectives about what we believe to be necessary, what we think we need to be comfortable or even happy. And though I am not advocating that we give up our creature comforts (Which may differ from person to person), I do think that each of us should spend some time reflecting on what we really need to live and survive. Moreover, we should perhaps go a bit further and ask ourselves why we need to acquire some of these things. Do we need the item(s) because it’s the current trend? Or is because it suggests status (Keeping us with the Jones’es) or help us fit into  our social circles? I’m not  by any means judging anyone for these are valid questions. But, I believe the answers to those questions can perhaps bring some of us, greater peace, less stress, and  reduced debt as we come to realize that, none of those things truly matter. Our possessions won’t bring us the happiness or security we want and seek. In fact, in some places, the very possession of those things, may make one more insecure and prone to threat or a targets for thieves.

These consumer mindset and behaviors have also affected our attitudes towards food. In that,  our consumption patterns have led us to eating more than we need, resulting in an  increase in lifestyle diseases, that afflict so many people year after year, at an increasingly younger age. Adding to that, some of us have embraced the perspective of living to eat and not eating to live. Inherent in these different perspectives, is the recognition that we should not be slaves to food or any other item /possession. In fact we should use these “things” to serve/sustain us well. For as with make-up and many other things less can be more and more isn’t always better.

per3Unfortunately though, some of us won’t ever come to these realizations until we hit rock bottom or find ourselves having to make do with less than we are accustomed to. Sadly, some people will not be able to adapt, adjust or even make the necessary changes and this may only bring greater peril/ hardships and heartaches. Another likely pitfall is that some of us may begin to identify ourselves with our physical possessions, as the things we own begin to define us, and give us validation/meaning. Chances are if we were to do away with some of the things we have, our homes would be cleaner and neater. We would live healthier lives, have less debt, experience less stress and we wouldn’t even miss them. People can be held back their physical possessions as much as emotional baggage. In so doing, we miss the things that matter most, our experiences with family and friends and even people who we don’t know.

How then do we avoid all of this?


  •  Shift your perspective from acquisition mode, which is the need to rush to acquire the next big or new thing. Often times we find ourselves with stuff we don’t need or even truly like (such as the clothes we don’t wear).
  • Truly pause and reflect on your life and life itself. Find out what truly matters to you, not your friends or family, and spend your time focusing on just that. Only then will you find true happiness.
  • Collect experiences instead of stuff/things. Someone once said “The best and most beautiful things in life are free and are felt in the heart”. Take your cues from that and whatever you discover about yourself, make your changes accordingly.
  • Be more humble. Be more grateful for what you have. Be more present in the here and now.
  • Most importantly, resist the urge to compare yourself to others. You don’t know their true story, only what they project.

Finally, I will ask you what   Dee Williams  asked her audience “Are  you doing the work you can do? Are you being the person you can you be? Are you learning about the truly important things- humility, gratitude and grace?

 Images Courtesy of Google.
Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Managing Emotions at Work

downloadThe tears well up in Ashley’s eyes, she tries desperately to stop them, hide them, but, they stream unchecked down her face. John pushes back his chair from the table, and storms from the meeting room. The usually bubbly and energetic Ann, dejectedly looks down, there is no light in her eyes, no welcoming smile. Seth stares ahead impassively, silent, stoic, and seemingly oblivious to his surrounding and peers and he says nothing.

Have you ever observed or experienced any of these “not so happy” emotional reactions in the workplace. Those swells of emotions; that fit of anger; the burst of tears; the blank hard stare of a colleague, team member, supervisor or direct report. Did you find it Awkward? Annoying? Inappropriate? Uncomfortable? Unprofessional? Regardless of what your views are on such emotional displays in the workplace, they are not uncommon and should not be taken lightly or brushed aside.

images (9)Like it  or not, the reality is that, the workplace is made up of people, and people have emotions that are often times expressed at work. Truth be told, not all the issues affecting employees and their performance originate on the job. Some of the factors causing emotional outbursts or provoking emotional responses in employees, might be internal to the job, external to the job or both. And though, you have often heard the saying that, “people should not take their problems to work”, people in fact do. I am by no means advocating that people take their personal issues and problems to work and vent their frustrations on other members of their teams.

However, I submit that, since the average employee spends 8-12 hours at work, it is not far-fetched or unusual for tempers to flare, emotions to run high, tears to flow, or for tension to emerge between supervisors and direct reports, among coworkers and within the ranks of leadership as well. If you have never had any of these experiences (been overwhelmed by emotions at work) or observed them, you are probably lucky. Never judge the person who has. People are all wired differently, triggered by different things and likely to respond to work pressures, stress, failures, bad news, and personal matters differently.

What are some of the factors that could cause these emotional reactions on the job?
images (4)There are many different  internal factors (related to the job or the organization) that are likely to produce  emotional responses in employees on the job. These include but are not limited to:
• Promotion/demotion.
• Voluntary/ involuntary separation (for the employee or colleague).
• Transfer from one unit/branch/location to another.
• Unfavorable performance reviews or  feedback.
• Failure on a big project.
• High stress level relating to long hours on the job, volume of work, difficult relationships on the job).

The external factors are those factors relating to the employee’s personal life (outside of the job and the organization), that might be affecting their performance, attitude or mental/emotional well-being. Some of these domestic/personal issues might include:
• A sick child/relative.
• Death of a loved one/friend.
• Personal ill-health(diagnosis of serious illness).
• Divorce, separation or any other marital problems.
• Parenting problems.
• Financial hardships resulting from the loss of income from a spouse or head of household.

Therefore, it is not unusual for employees to be affected by both internal and external factors at the same time, resulting in a decline in their emotional well-being, performance on the job and general morale.

images (5)Imagine the scenario with Ashley. Unknown to her supervisor, Ashley has experienced some difficult personal/domestic issues that have affected her performance on the job. Ashley’s supervisor has raised concerns about performance which she has also acknowledged. Ashley commits to  improving her performance, and her supervisor commits to supporting her. Over the following months, Ashley shows some signs of improvements in her performance, but not enough to allay the concerns of her supervisor. Ashley’s supervisor schedules a meeting to discuss with Ashley the need for urgent improvements. Though he is careful and fair in his approach, Ashley breaks down and starts to cry in the meeting. In this instance, Ashley’s emotional burst of tears may have nothing to do with the fairness of his/her supervisor or the accuracy of the feedback given. Ashley might have been very overwhelmed by  both the internal and external factors mentioned above and the meeting was just a trigger.

What then is an appropriate response for the manager/supervisor?

images (6)As a starting point, responsibility for managing emotions in the work place is each employee’s responsibility. It is important that all employees, (supervisors and coworkers) recognize and acknowledge that these things happen, and are likely to happen in the workplace. No one is immune for even strong people/personalities have breaking points. People just manifest their emotions differently. Employees like Ann might sink into  deep depression. John might swear and utter inappropriate words in anger or frustration, and Seth might simply “shut down”. These scenarios are highly likely, for it is particularly difficult for people to divorce themselves from their personal lives and be two different persons. The presence of any of these triggers (internal or external) in an employee’s life, might easily reach boiling point and explode  at work.

Therefore, managers/supervisors have a specific role to play,  if and when these varied emotional responses are played out on the job. Supervisors have to be especially mindful and aware that of issues/life events that might threaten to derail employees and affect their performance on the job. With this in mind, supervisors have the responsibility to take the time to get to know the members of their teams. You can’t effectively manage people you don’t know, or understand (i.e. Their personalities, aptitudes, attitudes and work ethic). In the instance that an employee display emotional reactions on the job, the supervisor should probe deeper or carefully observe the employee to assess  if there is an underlying problem. If and when they are able to pinpoint the issue/concern, the supervisor should display empathy and compassion to  the distressed/stressed employee and find ways to support.

images (7)Additionally, managers should also demonstrate sufficient emotion intelligence to be able to manage each employee differently. Some employees might not be bothered by a sharp tone, strong or firm words or pressure coming from a manager in his/her call for improved performance. But for another employee, a coaxing or gentler approach, heaping praises while pointing out gaps, might be more effective approach. Managers by their own actions and leadership styles, should foster a safe environment where employees can have the confidence to share whatever issue(s) that  might be affecting them  to get help/support. This also means that, trust and confidentiality must be hall marks of the manager’s approach.

What is the employee’s responsibility?
images (3) As mentioned earlier, the employee should also shoulder some of the responsibility for managing his /her own emotions in the workplace. Employees have a responsibility (an obligation even) to maintain some semblance of professionalism, though grappling with difficult situations/pressures internal and external to their jobs. Employees should always demonstrate respect for self, customers, peers, and be ever mindful not to breach the policies of the organization.Contending views with peers, negative feedback, stress caused by the volume of work/strict deadlines, disagreement with supervisors are all normal.

images (8)By being aware of their own emotions, their own triggers and how they are feeling, employees might be able to excuse themselves from a meeting to regain lost composure. If external factors are impacting their performance, employees must be mature, honest and willing to approach their supervisor or colleagues, and explain that, they are experiencing a challenge, and might need some support, space or time. The presence of a life event or personal issues is no excuse to shirk one’s responsibilities, “shut down” or disrespect fellow team members. Should this ever occur, the employee must be quick to apologize and strive never to repeat same.

It is also important that employees practice the  Q-TIP (Quit Taking It Personally) principle on the job. Tension among peers about the approach to a project at work, constructive criticisms, failures and “stretch assignments”, (that seem overwhelming or unreasonable at one point in time) can ultimately benefit you in the long run. They may test your capabilities, your will, and even your talents.But the successful results/outcomes  they produce might surprise you, and make you happy you were pushed, and that you persevered.

download (2)Please note as well that, the display of emotions in the work place is not bad. It just needs to be managed. It does not mean that the employee is weak, or unprofessional. We are never to judge or be judge when we demonstrate any of these emotional responses. For as we strive for personal and professional growth and development, we will never know where our respective journeys will take us, the life events that will change, shape or disrupt our lives. As such, we should always remember that people are people first, they are not their jobs, their titles nor their roles.

“What do we live for, if not to make  the world  a bit less difficult for each other?”

                                                                                                                                         Author Unknown

Images Courtesy of Google.
Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

To Be or Not To Be?

“To be, or not to be, that is the question”— William Shakespeare’s , Hamlet


The answer lies with you. Yes, you- the  one making the decision. 7 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 12 months a year, or every minute of the day, we make decisions, big  and small about our relationships, families, careers, finances, health and even entertainment. The  approach used to make these decisions might be influenced by one’s personality, personal philosophy and/or  unique situation at a point in time. For some of us, the process is  quick, easy and decisive, while for others it might be slow, tough and painful. Regardless of who you are, making decisions can be a challenging and intimidating experience, for with every decision comes, responsibility, consequences, and sometimes risks. Alas, that’s the nature of decision-making and  decisions are a fact of life.

“History never reveals its alternatives.”

imagesWhen we make decisions, we make choices. Choices that we will have to live with, and sometimes can’t even change. And for every decision  we make, there is another we didn’t make. And, that same decision made  typically, sets off a course of events  that will change the trajectory of our lives in ways that we probably can’t fully see or understand at the time. As for that other decision left at the table, there will be other options unexplored, opportunities lost or a  range of possibilities we will perhaps never know. But, we take comfort in the fact  that, given all the variables, our decision was the best decision to make at that point, given our circumstances, priorities, emotions and the information we had  at the time. Then again, “hindsight is 20/20” and with the passage of time, we are often prone to reflect on our decisions, rethink them or regret them.

I fancy myself good at making decisions and I don’t have any regrets about anything in my life (personally or professionally). I reckon that, if I thought about something and made a decision to pursue a course of action/path, and was fully conscious and well when I did so, then I would accept the outcomes of same, however they manifested themselves-success, failure, happiness, joy, sadness, pain. But, this is not the case for a lot of people. I have often heard colleagues, friends and family bemoan and express regrets about decisions that, they have made in their personal and professional lives. Upon deeper probing, they would always reveal that their decisions were influenced by considerations about their current obligations, circumstances, fear of the unknown, uncertainty about future risks and/or the insecurities they had at the time.

imagesCAUFVU8HFor me, the decision that  has made me wonder – what if?, was a job I turned down just after completing graduate school. Having studied Government at university  with an emphasis on International Relations and Public Administration, a job in diplomacy would have been a dream come true or so I thought at the time. So of course, I submitted my job application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sometime after, a long time after, I was invited to come in for an exam. I did the exam and left it hoping I did well enough but  was not overly concerned about it. Some three months after, I got a follow-up call inviting me to attend a panel interview.

I thought about declining the interview because, by now, the process had stretched out for a nearly a year, and I was 3 months into a new job. A job that paid well, reflected another interest and passion of mine, and provided that I could secure the independence I needed at that point of my life. Nonetheless, not one to leave anything unexplored, I accepted the interview and participated. Not long after, I was made an offer to join the ranks of the Foreign Service. You can only imagine how elated I was. Think status, prestige, international exposure, ambassador for country at large. But, all of that was before I learnt more about the nuances of roles, understood how the service worked, the salary and the entire package. But, truthfully, the worse part of it was that my dream job offer would require that I uproot again, start all over with  a significantly less compensation package, than  the one  my current job afforded me.

imagesCACLG7IISo, now I was in a quandary. Here I had an offer for my “dream job” in the nation’s capital, but it “didn’t pay”. Accepting the offer would totally eliminate any possibility of me having any independence for the next couple of years, and would not allow me to meet my financial obligations. On the other hand, I had a great job with a good company doing something I liked, a new apartment, the means to take care of me and urgent obligations (student loan). I asked my friends, family and mentors to weigh in, and even had a heart to heart with the Director for HR at the organization.She was open, and ever so gracious and kind. In the end, the decision was mine to make and mine to live with.

I guess you can figure out what I decided. I declined the offer and was told that I could reach out again should I rethink my decision. Though I never regretted that decision, every so often, as I reflect on the successes I achieved in my career as I know it, I would wonder what could have been, and how my life might have been different. After all, our decisions usually result in opportunity costs that we can’t always calculate. Does any of this mean that I gave up on a goal? Or that my analysis of the all the variables involved at the time was flawed? Or that I neglected the big picture and choose short-term goals over long-term ones? No, not to my mind- it doesn’t.

imagesCAFUSECXNothing about our lives(personal and professional) are entirely linear. Things have a way of coming full circle. Our decisions and choices have a way of creating diversions, opening up new worlds or restricting us the familiar, the certain and  the safe. Some call it fate, others destiny…or even karma. But that’s the nature of decisions. You will never know  what could have, should have, would  have been- for history won’t ever tell us what would have happened, had we decided otherwise.

So in essence, some decisions are easier, more comfortable, less risker than others, and can even lead us towards good and satisfying lives. But they may not always be our best choices. Once in a while, the circumstances in our lives, the places where we find ourselves, might require us to take the plunge, launch out into the deep, and stretch ourselves in areas and ways we never thought we could and still don’t even know we can. This is by no means advocating that we break off unhappy relationships, leave frustrating/dead-end jobs, give up pension plans and start-up your own new business. But sometimes, we may just have to. And in so doing, we redefine ourselves, embrace new, exciting  and rewarding experiences and find/ rediscover happiness in our lives.

images6So while decision can be daunting, we should never shy away from making them. Instead, we should try as best as possible to make them for the right reason, with much care, weighing what your heart and mind inclines you to do. For though we might seek and receive good counsel from others, it’s our lives, our responsibility, our decisions and we will have to live with them- come what may.

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Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Are You Engaged?

engagement3I am pretty sure that when you think or hear of the term engagement – the first thing that comes to mind is a proposal for marriage. Yes, the moment the man or woman (not so uncommon these days) pops the question and ask his/her beloved for their hand in marriage. If you thought so, you would be quite right but that’s not what I am thinking, nor is it the focus of this post.

In today’s  workplace, the term engagement  is a relatively new  buzz word used to describe the degree to which employees are motivated, happy, satisfied with the work they do, interested  in their organizations, and  display support  for  the company’s mission or their team. On the other hand, disengagement speaks a situation where employee’s behaviors and attitudes are negative, morale is low and they do the bare minimum to get by. Studies suggest that between 20-30% of employees within organizations are disengaged.  As such, one would reasonably conclude that each organization is comprised of two categories of employees – the engaged and the disengaged.

engagement2In any organization and for any manager or leader, the engaged employee is a dream. Not unlike a newly engaged person, this individual is happy, finds meaning in their work, supports the fellow members of the team and are highly productive. They are driven and they get the job done. On the flip side, are the disengaged employees. These are the unhappy ones, less motivated by the work they are doing and even less satisfied with their jobs. Usually, the disengaged employee operate at two extremes. That is, from the heavy silence and passive participation in meetings/ teams to the vocal opposition, negative attitudes/opinions they express when anything is to be done or any change is proposed. Working with them, is akin to pulling teeth and saps your energy. Because for them, it is  never just about the matter at hand, but everything else (past and present) as they are shackled by the history of their experiences. Does any of  this sound familiar or does anyone come to mind?

imagesCAMEZKVII’m sure by now you are probably making a mental note the people in your organization to whom these categories applies. But better yet, do you know where you fall? Are you engaged or not? Regardless of what your answer is, there is no need to judge or condemn these persons. The issues they struggle with are real. And however this is manifested, they need help and support from their supervisors and coworkers. I’ve not always thought so. But, I have come to learn that at some point of our work lives, we ourselves are not immune. We too risk becoming disengaged, or can slide along the continuum (engagement or disengagement) as a result of a problem with a supervisor, a small win, a big failure or just the general work environment/culture of the organization.

Which brings me to the point? What really causes an individual to become disengaged? A quick review of the literature will tell you that disengagement might be caused by one or all of the following:

  • Lack of respect from management.
  • Employee feeling that his/her  contribution or work is not valued.
  • Inadequate knowledge/understanding of company’s mission or even how they fit in.
  • Inequity and unfairness in how employees are treated(managers have favorites).
  • Poor working relationships with supervisor and managers.

imagesCAH1MI1BA case in point was my first experience with a disengaged coworker. She was a very mature, knowledgeable and competent individual who had spent over 15 years working with the company, prior to the 8+ years we worked together. After a couple of interactions, watching her body language in meetings, observing her level of responsiveness and just the negative attitude and tone with which she operated, I was pretty annoyed. She was never rude, but I wondered how someone with such a wealth of experience and maturity could be like that. And better yet, if she was so obviously unhappy with the company and the work, why didn’t she just leave? Why torture herself? Why make life and work more difficult for  the other people with whom she worked, due to the sheer amount of effort and energy, they would have to expend to work effectively with her.

imagesCA23Z6XAThough I struggled to understand why she was just like that, I came to accept that there were many others like her as well. While she was expressive,  the others were silent and passive. I  figured that, at the very least, we all had a job to do and that job paid our bills. And as long as that was true, then each of us had an obligation to give of our best efforts. That for me was simply a matter of personal integrity. I would later learn my annoyance was misplaced, for she like others who were , were not always like that. Once upon a time, she too had been engaged and she did in fact, love what she did. Unfortunately, she had, had, one too many bad experiences in the workplace –with leaders, supervisors and even customers. As a result, she no longer trusted the organization. And since everyone had a right to work, she responded as best she could to survive.

Therefore, it important that both organizations and individuals remember:

  1. imagesCAHR4550Organizations through their management teams and climate they create or foster, have an obligation to provide a “safe and enabling environment” for their employees to thrive and grow.
  2. Issues left ignored or swept under the rug- do not disappear. The buildup and may later threaten to derail even the very  best employees and the most engaged.
  3. Disengaged employees hurt organizations as much as they hurt themselves. They are likely to hurt an organizations performance and bottom line due to their levels of service and productivity.
  4. Disengaged employees can negatively affect an organization’s culture or may even negatively influence new recruits.
  5. Both organizations and individuals have to make a conscious effort to recognize and assess the levels of engagement amongst employees in their organization and in themselves.

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Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Why Does It Hurt So Bad? Feedback is a Gift!

images-sadWhy does it hurt so bad? Why do I feel so sad?  Thought I was … No, this not a love song. Nor is it  about  my love life,  or  the death or loss of a loved one.  I am talking about FEEDBACK.

At some time or another, you and I have had to give feedback to someone, or might have been on the receiving end. And for the most of us, the experience hasn’t always been pleasant. In fact, on the work scene, it is not unlikely for  both employees and supervisors to dread, that time of year when performance appraisals are to be conducted. And even in our personal lives, feedback – the nature and content of it, has led to, or contributed to, many a  broken or damaged relationships, shattered trust and sent many to seek the counsel of elders, family, pastors and friends. Still, I contend, no matter how you look at it, feedback is a GIFT.

Here is the dilemma- feedback comes from everywhere and everyone, and it can be both  good and bad. Clearly, positive feedback, the type  usually regarded as good, doesn’t make us feel mad, bad or sad. It pleases us, makes us glow and run around “boasting” of our finer attributes to anyone who will listen. Usually, it is the negative variety a.ka. bad feedback, that causes us the  tears, pain, anger, sends us ranting, catches us reacting defensively, or signals us to turn on our Silence buttons. When this happens, whether the  feedback is given by loved one, friend(s), supervisor(s) or, co-worker(s), customer(s)  or all of the above- doesn’t make it any easier accept.


Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve experienced all the emotions I just described, and the  kinds of feedback I mentioned. One my earliest experiences with negative feedback,  came from my  supervisor in my very first job. In my then role, I was responsible for coordinating over 20 training courses offered by the agency. The position I  assumed, had been vacant for a whole year, and there was a “back-log” with issues deemed  both  urgent and important  at the same time. As you could imagine, I worked hard to resolve these issues, while focusing on my key deliverables, learning the organization and my job. But, none of this bothered me, for I love a challenge, and tend to be very committed to whatever I do. Needless to say, by the time my probationary period ended, I was confident, settled and happy with my progress and performance.  And with this positive energy and attitude, I sat down with my supervisor for my performance appraisal.

untitledfeedback 2Our discussions about my performance and impact went very well. There were no surprises. That is, until she mentioned that, some of the participants for a course I coordinated, were dissatisfied with me. The issue they raised was related to my attitude, and their perception that,  I did not seem particularly “friendly” to  them. Truth be told, they were my least favorite group and they had the biggest issues on my “backlog” list. Speaking to them, and interacting with them, always  required extra preparation-mental and otherwise. But I consider myself professional, and they were our/my customers, so truly I did my best. As my supervisor shared, I remember feeling hurt and angry, as I fought the tears welling up in my eyes . Suddenly, it was as if, nothing else had been said in the discussion, none of the kudos I had earlier heard/received mattered. And the kinder she was, the worst I felt.

Sometime after  my tears subsided, and my thoughts of their ungratefulness faded, I resolved that I had to change my approach. After all, don’t we all want to be seen favorably, to the people who matter? So,I made a deliberate effort to “warm up” to the group, smile, say  hi to them in the corridors, and be more patient in our interactions. It wasn’t before long  that they too responded in kind, and I made friends with the group, as we continued to grapple with challenging issues. The way I figure it now is that, I was much younger then and less wiser I suspect.

Since then, I’ve had many roles and numerous opportunities to give and receive feedback.


Yet to date, the most enduring lessons have been:

  • Feedback isn’t always positive or negative but it should always be honest.
  • It is equally important to listen to what is said as well as what is not said.
  • LISTEN and SILENT has the same letters- so listen carefully and ask questions to help you better understand the issue not argue.
  • Instead of dismissing the feedback you don’t like, ask yourself- is any of it true?
  • Be kind and gentle in sharing feedback-regardless of appearances, people are people first with emotions, insecurities and fears.
  • Avoid making generalizations about people. Base your feedback on the specific situation you observed, the behavior and the impact it had on you, the job or others.
  • Examine your motives in giving feedback – is it meant to develop or “tear down”?
  • Say thank you- you don’t have to agree with what you’ve  heard (but it is better to know how others feel about you and it gives you an opportunity to fix it).

In the end, I have learnt to value feedback. Feedback should make us glow and grow. Feedback is a Gift!

What has your experience been in giving or receiving feedback? Practice on me !

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Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved