Out With THe Old, In With the New – a failed Philosphy

We Have a problem in Corporate America

As a person who’s been a part of corporate America for well more than two decades, I have some observations.

Back when I first entered this world, it was clear to me that the glass ceiling was very real and the people who were invited to have a voice at the table had been around for a long, long time. It created an imbalance between tried and true experience and new ideas.

Fast forward thirty years (which amazingly isn’t as difficult as it sounds), disparity still exists, it’s just been turned on it’s head. Somewhere between 10 and 15 years ago, a new generation entered the work force. A plethora of young people who had grown up with technology and never experienced what life was like before the internet, cell phones and microwaves.

From my perspective, too many people from previous generations let themselves be intimidated by technology and the tides of corporate America turned significantly. Suddenly, experience became secondary to computers and other high tech business solutions.

The faces around the ‘leadership’ tables were no longer those with experience etched between their eyebrows and around their mouths. Instead, the seats at the table were filled with individuals whose ticket into the inner circle was the ability to baffle the older generations with the ease in which they traversed through technology solutions.

If I had a nickel for every time, I’ve heard one of my colleagues who is a ‘person of a certain age’ bow out of a conversation or worse publicly deprecated the value of their experience, I’d be a wealthy woman. It makes me cringe every time I hear someone my age say anything to the effect of, “I’m too old to learn how to use technology.” Or worse yet, “I know I’ll be out of a job soon because I can’t learn how to use high tech solutions.

The way the world was when I entered the workforce, experience was far and away considered to be more valuable than fresh ideas and a knowledge of new solutions to help businesses grow. Now, the tables have turned, and years of experience play second fiddle to those who are technology savvy.

In my mind, there’s no reason ‘people of a certain age’ should let themselves be intimidated by technology, they’re only serving to widen the gap between generations. Instead, we have an opportunity to learn from our younger colleagues, and well, to have some fun learning new things on our own as well. The ability to recommend solutions, based on years of experience coupled with the latest technology is priceless.

I also see no reason for much younger generations to disregard the value their colleagues with decades of experience bring to the table.

There are days that I wonder about the future of business in the U.S. and perhaps other countries if we don’t all make efforts to fully acknowledge the value of new faces and ideas as well as the wisdom possessed by those who have been around for more than a few years. For me, there’s a mutual responsibility and opportunity to learn from generations that are not our own.

Out with the old and in with the new is a flawed approach. Disregarding new ideas and young fresh perspectives is equally as flawed.

I can’t help but think that we’d all be more successful in business if we could figure out how to strike the right balance between generations.

Happy Celebration!

“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.” ~ Marianne Williamson

My life has included many different cities and states and each move has taught me a little bit more about the importance of community and why we should try and build it wherever we are.

In some ways, the actual definition of the word community is a bit contrary to modern-day realities. Depending on your situation, it can be challenging to find a group of people with whom you share common interests, attitudes and goals or have a common characteristic.

As the world becomes both more divided and diverse, we have to find ways to look past the obvious and seek to find the commonalities. While we come from different ethnic origins, have varying political beliefs and refer to God by the name associated with our religious beliefs. At our core, we have more in common than we don’t. I believe that finding this common ground is key to all of us coming together in a way that allows us to have different points of view and to share them with the intention of both teaching and listening.

I thought I understood this, but my neighbor’s daughters have unknowingly taught me many lessons in this area.

My neighbor’s homeland is Saudi Arabia and they have lived in the U.S. for I’m guessing about six years, Texas before Syracuse. Yesterday, during our sidewalk chalk art afternoon, I learned that three of the four kids were born in Saudi, the oldest daughter was born in Pakistan.

What I learned was amazingly simple. Kids are kids, no matter where they were born or raised. They have favorite subjects in school, and there are subjects that they dread. Siblings fight, but they also love each other fiercely. Kids pull pranks on each other and do their best to get out of doing chores.

It got me to thinking if kids are kids no matter what – doesn’t that mean that people are just people? At least when you strip away all of the baggage, we seem to accumulate as we grow up.

My neighbors recently confirmed this notion through a recent act of kindness and generosity.

They are celebrating Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals in the Islamic faith. This year it begins on 7/30 and ends on 8/3.

Friday afternoon, the girls (my sidewalk art buddies) rang my doorbell and offered a basket of sweets for me to choose some from. The oldest girl said, “We are celebrating a holy holiday and want to say thank you.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Happy Celebration!”

A bit later in the evening, my doorbell rang again, and this time, it was all of the girls in the family, including the mother.

She offered me something tucked between two paper plates, and said, “I am sorry you weren’t able to come and share doughnuts with us earlier, but we wanted to bring you one.”

I explained that I had been working and would have loved to be there with them to share, and of course, I accepted it graciously.

I asked her the name of the celebration, she responded, “Eid al-Adha” and was kind enough to spell it for me so I could look it up later.

I asked her about the celebration, and she explained the history. I will need to do more research to share it, but, the crux of it is, that kindness is everything, something that is common to all religions.

At the heart of the celebration is to recognize and acknowledge sacrifices and to share with others. Sharing gifts of food is one of the traditions.

It was a simple but meaningful conversation.

My last question to her was, “What is the proper way for me to thank you and show my honor for your holiday.”

She simply said, “You told my girls, Happy Celebration, you did it just right.”

Community is all around us, sometimes you just have to work a little harder to find and build it. It’s incredibly rewarding when it happens.

One Good Thing

March 20, 2020, was the last day my team worked in the office before the state of N.Y. shut down because of COVID. Since then, we’ve been working from home.

It’s been an interesting transition and a combination of the company scrambling to procure devices such as laptops and technology to enable easy remote access and people being willing to use personal devices to continue to be productive and effective.

We are executing on a huge website replatforming project – working remotely isn’t necessarily the best way to facilitate this. Unlike the norm, my team has more than doubled in size during this unprecedented time – going from three members (including me) to seven. These are some tough circumstances under which to build a team and to launch a new website. But, against all the odds, we have, thanks to the wonderful people on my team.

We have daily remote calls, sometimes we’re all on camera, sometimes no one is, and sometimes it’s a mixture. The essential things are, we meet every day, and people know they have a choice about whether or not to be on video.

When we started our remote daily “stand-ups,” I asked everyone to start the call with “one good thing” that happened the previous day. My original intent was to help us all stay focused, for at least a moment, on gratitude. It’s turned out to have quite an unexpected and unintended positive outcome.

We’ve gotten to know each other better during a time in which the team is onboarding new members from both outside of the company and within the company, but from different groups. From my perspective, it’s been a really unique time and way to do team building.

There’s no substitute for in-person interaction, but we’ve made the best of it. We share lots of things, from recipes, to what we made for dinner the previous night to sidewalk chalk adventures.

Here are some things I’ve learned about my team members (using initials, so I don’t infringe on anyone’s privacy).

A.B. is from Korea and is relatively new to our industry. She is eager to learn and more than willing to embrace feedback. A has recently started to explore the world of visual art and recently was brave enough to share her drawings with the team, something we all appreciated. She very much enjoys movies, books and food from her native land, and during the pandemic has been able to connect with many of her friends from all over the world. Her face lights up when she is delighted and that is often.

R.B. has been living in Buffalo since the pandemic made landfall, which has been good for him. He’s had time away in a positive living environment and away from his toxic roommate in Syracuse. As the mom of kids who’ve experienced some toxic roommate experiences, I totally get it. Even before he temporarily relocated to Buffalo, he had started to discover his talent in the kitchen, and it’s grown from there with an appreciative audience to share dinner with. He’s also exploring the world of clothing design – great things to come, no doubt. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that his dog has been surrounded by cats for the summer, and it has resulted in some very amusing anecdotes.

S. E. is the mom of two beautiful children just starting out in the world, a 4-year-old and an infant, not a newborn – but not yet a year old. Her 4-year-old daughter is now dabbling in sports such as t-ball and is loving it. Both of her kids enjoy neighborhood gatherings and family outings to explore the area. According to her daughter, S’s husband, in addition to being a medical professional, is also a lawn care professional who is bringing life to the lawn in their newly built home. Last but not least, she’s a caring person who makes treats for others in her neighborhood.

S.T. loves the outdoors and spending his time biking and hiking. He also loves to read – Stephen King is one of his favorite authors, and he’s also a fan of podcasts and is always connecting the dots between events. If you want a recommendation for an outdoor escape, he’s definitely a go-to person. He loves dogs, is very handy at remodeling – and has made substantial home improvements with the help of Home Depot during the past few months.

T.C. is a jack of all trades, and more than competent at all of them. He’s a vegan chef, a Moped rebuilder, and more than handy around his house. T is a wonderful dad, who loves his daughter beyond words, it’s touched me more than once to see their morning hug. He also is an excellent reference for where to go in the great outdoors – and also where to go to get great craft beer. He loves helping his friends, even though he hasn’t necessarily come out and said that, it’s obvious – and I have no doubt they appreciate him as much as he appreciates them.

T. R. recently moved into a house with his fiance. They’re planning a wedding for October of 2021. He has a new baby sister, whom he’s gotten to see twice during this strange time – looking forward to more pictures of her as she grows. He’s done a fantastic job of making his new house a home, and one of his latest projects is making sure the new grass seed takes hold. He and his fiance enjoy quiet nights at home together. One of the things they enjoy doing together is cooking, perhaps especially making meatballs together to put in the freezer so they can enjoy meatball sandwiches together.

I imagine my team has learned a few things about me as well, but I’ll leave that to them. I’m just grateful to be working with a group of people who are so willing and able to make the best of things.

#Blacklivesmatter

To say there has been a lot of controversy, conflict and unrest over the past week would be the understatement of the year.

The violence that has erupted across the country is, unfortunately, not a new occurrence. Unwarranted brutality and violence toward the black citizens of our nation began when they first became enslaved and were forced into lives that were riddled with cruelty, injustice and sickening forms of physical abuse.

Racial riots began as early as 1866 in Memphis, Tennessee, during the early stages of Reconstruction.

To this day, the KKK still has an active presence, despite their supposed declining long term trend of people being associated with the nefarious organization. I can’t help but wonder if their ‘declining membership’ hasn’t just been replaced by the skinheads and neo-nazis of the world. In fact, I’ve read articles indicating that the white number of active hate groups in the US has reached a 20-year high.

From my perspective, the hashtags and signs that say #alllivesmatter and #bluelives matter are missing the point. Yes, all lives matter and I have a deep respect for the officers in our communities who genuinely are in the police force because they want to serve and protect. I believe, they minimize the current issue at hand, the violence toward black members of our communities.

There is no denying that the violent, brutal discrimination against African Americans in the US is egregious. The most recent example is the murder of George Floyd – but it’s far from the only one.

A little over a year ago, I was mugged at gunpoint in Center City Philadelphia. I was with my youngest son and one of my best friends. A phrase I never thought I’d hear myself say, is, “He held a gun to my head.”

The criminals happened to be three young black men.

I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t have an effect on me and the way I react when I see young black men wearing hooded sweatshirts and avoiding eye contact, especially at night. I also know that if it had been three young men of any race, I would have experienced the same reactions. To be honest, I’ve grown to have a very wary response to any young man who looks like he’s up to no good. I think that’s pretty human.

I am rational enough to know that my reaction to the situation is not a reflection of how I feel about the black population of our country. It’s a reaction to the situation I experienced.

As one of my close friends says, “There are bad eggs in every basket. It doesn’t matter what color they are.”

Let’s stop focusing on the bad eggs and turn our attention to what the systemic issues are. We have a fundamental problem with racism and violence and for whatever reason, many people seem to generalize and lump people together by their ethnic origins.

Have you seen the video of George Floyd’s brother praying and pleading with people to honor his brother’s death with dignity, not violence? It’s powerful.

All of us need to educate ourselves about the culture and history of those that are different from us. I definitely have not done enough of this, but plan to expand my education beyond a visit to the Harriet Tubman Museum. (which, was remarkably insightful)

At Last, a Break from the Clouds and Monotony

It’s April 26, 2020, and today marks the 38th day of self-isolation and the shut-down of nonessential businesses in New York State. I was shocked when I did the math and realized that millions of Americans have been at home for just over 10% of the current year, no wonder we’re going a bit stir crazy.

I was forewarned before moving to Upstate, NY, about the overcast nature of the weather. Although I thought I was mentally prepared for it, the reality is that the cloudy, rainy, dreary days far outnumber the sunny ones. This year has been compounded by the need to stay at home, below-average temperatures, and snowfall as recently as a few days ago.

Yesterday there was finally a break in the weather pattern, and it was a gloriously sunny and mild day. I met up with my friend Rodney, and we went for what I thought was going to be a leisurely stroll around one of the state parks. It turned out to be so much better than that.

Green Lakes is a magnificent park. Even the entrance is strikingly scenic, with its evergreen lined paths to the hiking trails.

Evergreen lined entrance_Green Lakes

The paved path leading into the park met my initial expectation about the nature of the walk, it was a bit hillier than I imagined but still reasonably easy.

As we reached the top of the hill and the first glimpse of the interior of the park and the area my friend wanted to give me a walking tour of, my impressions began to change a little. Instead of a paved path, the first walking path he showed me was covered in a blanket of emerald green grass.

Grassy Path at Green Lakes

The path was flanked by Reed grass (I think that’s what it is) and trees that are still waiting for weather warm enough to coax them into spring.

We didn’t take this path, but seeing it did alter my expectations a bit – the trails wouldn’t be paved, but I anticipated the walk would be a little more challenging, but very manageable.

Fast forward through the rest of our six-mile ‘walk.’ There were steep hills and gentle inclines, smooth grassy paths, and dirt paths spotted with tree roots emerging through the earth as well as a few rocks scattered here and there.

Our final descent involved a steep hill with a very narrow dirt path that contained more than one spot peppered with small loose rocks. Steep Trail at Green Lakes

We stood at the top of the hill, and Rodney said, “Beth, I’m so sorry! I forgot about this hill.”

I responded, “It’s ok, I’m up for the challenge – let’s do it!”

Rodney and Mo (short for Geronimo), his trusted Chocolate Lab, were sure-footed as they began the downward climb. As for me, not so much – I was hesitant at best, but determined to make it.

I could tell I was making Rodney nervous, and he was concerned for my safety because he kept stopping, turning around, and coaching me. “Place your feet a little wider apart on this next part of the trail, oh, and walk to the left. It’s wider, and there are fewer loose rocks.” Through his coaching and a virtual helping hand, I made it safely to the bottom of the hill.

All I can say is I felt accomplished after doing so!

It was a far different walk from my usual stroll around the flat and uninteresting streets of my neighborhood. Instead of listening to my book, I listened to nature and engaged in conversations filled with good-natured banter.

It was also nice to see people outside of the grocery store, albeit in masks and from at least six feet away. It somehow still felt a bit more normal than the past few weeks have seemed.

The walk, or the hike, was life-affirming and a reminder that as we go through our days on this earth, we will experience both easy and challenging times. But when it’s all said and done, if we face those challenging times head-on and accept help along the way, life is truly joyous and rewarding.

The little lake at Green Lakes

Rooftop Parking at the Airport – Here’s to being prepared!

Well, I can’t say that I’d intentionally plan my travel experiences over Thanksgiving, but as always, one can turn it into a good story.

My flights were actually on time, other than a really long layover in Chicago, the flying part was uneventful.

Fast forward to the rooftop of the Syracuse airport parking garage, and things took a not unexpected turn for the worse. While I was in St. Louis, many, many inches of snow fell.

My poor little car was not entirely buried in snow, but let’s just say that the snow came up to my knees and it wasn’t all that easy to get my suitcase in the car or to retrieve my snow brush/scraper.

As I examined my situation, it became clear that a shovel was needed. As it just so happened, I had one in my trunk.

Almost a year ago to the day, in preparation for my move, I equipped my car with a winter emergency kit. A compact shovel was one of the long shots, I had no idea if it would hold up to the task if the situation arose.

Tonight it came in more than handy.

I opened my trunk and at the same time, noticed a young couple a few spots down the lot – their car wasn’t going anywhere.

He got out of the car and started pacing. I shouted, “Do you need a shovel? I have one.”

He walked over and looked at me. “You have a shovel?”

“I do, it’s never been used. It might be horrible, but here it is.”

He took the plastic shrink wrap off and unfolded the handle and locked it into place.

“This is sweet! I’m in the army, and right now, you’re more prepared than me. But then again, it’s hard for a newbie to know what to expect in Syracuse.”

He shoveled out his car while I brushed the snow off of mine. Then he shoveled out my car.

Snowtop roof parking

There was another man across from us who was going through the same struggles, at first he turned down my offer to use the little but apparently sturdy shovel. I’m not sure why he thought it would be better to continue trying to scoop the snow with his hands instead of using my shovel.

In the end, he asked if he could use it, of course, I handed it to him. He then stood near my car to make sure I could get out ok.

Two life lessons were validated that night. There really are good people in the world, and it’s a good idea to be prepared.

I will Uber for my Christmas travels.

We’ve Reached a Fork in the Road, or have we?

My parents and I were talking tonight about things related to business dealings, politics and life in general.

The phrase, “we’ve reached a fork in the road” came up, it was followed by “it’s time to make a decision.” This doesn’t just imply it’s time to make a choice, it explicitly states there is only one next step. There is one way or another, nothing in between. I honestly don’t think that’s what either person means. But, it’s how it can be and probably is most often interpreted.

As we were talking, I had two images flash through my brain. One was of an actual fork – one we use to eat with. The other was of a fork in a road. The difference between them struck me immediately. I know this is strange, but it’s how my brain works.

As we picture a fork in the road – there are only two choices, you go left, or you go right. Those are the only options. Perhaps we limit ourselves.

Oddly enough, the fork we use in everyday life, as a utensil to consume food, has three prongs. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to pick up a piece of meat or a potato wedge with a physical fork that only had two prongs? Especially if they were pointing in opposite directions…

It made me think – perhaps, the third prong, the middle road so to speak, represents the opportunity for a “win, win” approach to life.

We seem to be faced with so many it has to be ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ choices these days.

Perhaps it’s time we started to look at the “fork in the road” in a new way and find common ground. It’s time to carve a new path – it’s in between the “fork in the road.”

Lessons in Leadership

It’s odd, but true that one of my most profound learning experiences as a leader has also been one of my best-kept secrets. It’s an experience that caused me so much shame and embarrassment that I haven’t shared it with many people – in fact, I just recently shared it with my parents more than 20 years after it happened.

As a young supervisor, I entered my new role with unearned confidence after having been the President of the University Program Council at my college, coupled with many summers of managing lifeguards at a local country club and a short stint in retail.

Little did I know what the business world expected and would require from me.

I entered the “real” work world as the supervisor of a small call-center for a printing company. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous interviewing tactics of my then manager. They included describing the dimensions of block of wood, which was somehow supposed to relate to printing – I actually never understood the connection.

Anyway, fast forward to my role as the Customer Service Supervisor (yes I was hired).

I thought I was doing a fantastic job. After all, “everyone “loved me.”

Turns out, it was time for a significant course correction.

The company (ahead of its time) conducted an employee satisfaction survey, “guaranteed to be anonymous.” The survey included the opportunity to give direct feedback about your supervisor, and honesty was encouraged.

The survey was sent, the results were received and the feedback sessions were scheduled.

I’m reasonably sure my feedback session was the first. It was awful, no, let’s make that horrible. Not only was the feedback hard to hear – the setting was worse.

Imagine sitting in a conference room surrounded by your direct reports, the V.P. of HR (aka the daughter of the owner of the company, in this case) and your nemesis. In other words, I was sitting at a table with the people who had been asked to provide “anonymous” feedback about my performance as their supervisor.

It also included the woman who had been hired to be promoted into the position I wholeheartedly and mistakenly believed should have been mine. Could there be a more uncomfortable setting? I think not – it was beyond awkward for everyone.

Long story short, and I’ll get to the point. The feedback I received was painful to hear but honest and accurate.

The next morning, after a night of endless tears, I made myself get out of bed and go to work. Just as I got to my desk, the phone rang, the name and extension number on the display signaled it was John O’Brien, the president company. I froze, then shakily picked up the receiver and said, “This is Beth.”

He asked me to come to his office.

I was terrified of the outcome – sure I would be fired because I had received such a terrible review from the survey. But here’s how the conversation went.

“Beth, yesterday was a tough day for you. First and foremost, I want to apologize to you for how the feedback was delivered. That was not my intention, and unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job of setting up the right way to communicate the feedback. I own that, and you should have never received the feedback in a group setting, it should have been private.

Having said that, it happened. Tell me what you think about what was said and what you heard, separate from the way you received it.”

After a deep breath and through barely held back tears, I responded, “It was hard to hear, but it was accurate. I do try too hard to be liked instead of giving people honest feedback that might be difficult to hear but would help them grow. There were many things said that I need to improve on and change. The list is long.”

His reply as he handed me a tissue, “You have choices now, Beth. What are you going to do?”

“John, it’s embarrassing to admit, but what they said was right, and like I said, it was hard to hear, but it’s obvious I need to make some changes.  I’ll need help along the way, but I want to make this work.”

“You have great potential, I knew you’d make the right choice, and I’ll help you in every way I can. We both learned valuable lessons yesterday and today. Let’s put this  experience behind us, but learn from it.”

Looking back, the choice seemed rather obvious to me at the time, purely from an “I need to keep my job” perspective. But as it turns out, this was one of, if not the biggest and best lessons in leadership I have ever learned.

The lesson was painful but straightforward. People look to a leader to help them grow, not to be a friend. It’s essential to believe in people and to take a personal interest in their lives and in their success, but boundaries are important and necessary. Being a leader is important and bears responsibility. As a mother, I often-times liken it to parenthood.

We want the best for our kids, we are stewards of their lives – after all, we brought them into the world. While we didn’t bring the people we work with into the world, we spend more time with them than we do our own children when it’s all said and done. So, as leaders, and we all are in one way or another, we have the responsibility and the privilege to care for the people we interact with. Especially if we are in a leadership role.

The people we work with rely on us to show both honesty and compassion in our relationships with them. What they may or may not understand is that it’s not always easy. I’d never thought about it before, but I now realize that John O’Brien probably dreaded the conversation with me, maybe nearly as much as I dreaded facing him.

In the end, he owned his part in the debacle but didn’t let me lose sight of the leadership lesson I needed to learn. John O’Brien was someone who owned his mistakes, made the needs of his employees a priority and helped people develop. In other words, he was a servant leader long before it was a corporate buzz word.

While the experience was undoubtedly the most humiliating one of my professional career, it was also the most important one. Because of it, I learned what it means to be a leader and it changed the course of my career for the better.

Recently I attended a leadership workshop, which brought the experience full circle. It involved a “360 review.” This basically means questions are sent to your manager, peers and direct reports requesting feedback on your effectiveness as a leader.

I’ll leave it at this, John would be proud of the leader I’ve become.

The Garage… the most versatile room in a house??

When I was looking for a place to live in Upstate, NY, one of the most important criteria was a garage. Ideally, an attached garage with snow removal as part of the deal. I was lucky enough to find a townhome community that met these requirements.

I’d spent the previous ten winters shoveling, brushing and scraping my car out of mounds of snow. So, as you might imagine, a garage was a must when I moved to a place that gets an average of 104 inches of snow each year.

There’s a trend among people who have moved into the community over the past year; it baffles me. More than half of the residents who have moved in do not use the garage for their car(s). Walking through the neighborhood reveals the various uses for a garage; they include storage, a “man cave,” T.V. and all, a game room, and oddly enough, mostly empty, but the car is still parked in the driveway. I especially can’t quite figure that last one out.

After a decade of digging out of boxes from one move to another as well as more hours than I’d like to have spent digging my car out after a snowstorm,  I’ve become a firm believer in using a garage for it’s intended purpose, to store a car and a bike. 🙂