Tuesday, December 30, 2014

10 New Years Resolutions for the Mindful CEO

As business leaders we are given the responsibility of minding and managing the health of our companies.  Your financial bottom line is a clear and simple gauge of it’s fiscal wellbeing.  But there are other spheres in which a mindful leader can create a healthy community - a workplace that is respectful of each member and helps bring out the best in us all.  Here are ten ideas for leaders who want to create healthier, happier companies at all levels.

1. Celebrate the small -  We ring the bell for the big sale, but what about the little things, like Fridays, birthdays, meeting a deadline, or getting a coveted certification?  Every Friday at any moment past 4:29pm, anyone with something to celebrate can ring the beer-thirty bell.  Then, once 10 or more of us are gathered in the kitchen, the bell-ringer makes a toast.   We celebrate the large and the small things that happened during the week - some of them are business related and some of them are personal and it’s a great way to wind up the week, keep us connected and to help us celebrate the little things in life.

2.  Tear down that wall!  Let’s stop pretending that people’s lives outside of work have no place in the office.  First of all it’s ridiculous to presume we can shut them off.  But even if we could why would we want to?   Community is created through sharing and connecting in meaningful ways.  Bring your children to work.  Bring your art.   Bring your dogs.  Yes there are business reasons to do this, but there are other reasons too.  Reasons of the heart.  No one questions coffee.   

3. Take a break -  A small group at Walker started planking every other hour on the hour.  That’s five one-minute planks a day, and when I join in I find that even after one short minute I go back to my desk oddly refreshed.   Some of our team take regular walks around the grounds.  Step away, move, breathe - it works on so many levels.

4. Wait for it - A group of scientists were hiking in the jungle with an indigenous tribe when all of a sudden, for no apparent reason the locals all stopped and sat down.  The scientists were baffled and agitated, but nothing would stir the group until after a time, just as suddenly,  they rose and began walking again.   It wasn’t until later that evening around the fire that the tribe’s leader explained:  They had been moving too fast for their souls to keep pace so they stopped to give them time to catch up.  Make sure you don’t outpace your soul.  Make a habit of checking in now and again, and if you notice you’ve left it behind stop, rest, and give it a minute to catch up. 

5. Practice Happy Tetris - In a recent experiment students were paid to play Tetris for several hours a day (I know!) revealing that in a matter of days the students’ brains rewired themselves and they began to view the world through Tetris eyes.  Students described walking out of their apartments and immediately seeing how to arrange the skyline tetris fashion.  Ditto with cereal boxes at the grocery store.   So how about we practice Happy Tetris every day and rewire our brains?  Find moments to feel grateful, find opportunities to laugh.  The more we do that the more we’ll see opportunities for gratitude and happiness.

6. Track your KII - We’re good at identifying our Key Performance Indicators, which are important but do you know what your Key Impact Indicators are?   Figure out how your business is making a positive difference in the world and start tracking it.  Measuring the money is important and easy.  Measuring impact is more difficult (As Einstein told us, not everything that counts is countable) but just as important.  Discussing your KIIs as a group is a healthy way to uncover your mission and core values and and finding ways to measure your impact can help you drive your company not merely toward greater profitability but also greater good.

7. Tune to AM -  Dave O’Brien, author of The Navigator’s Handbook talks about  the idea of paying attention to whether you are tuned to AM (Appreciation Mode) or FM (Frustration Mode).  Leaders are trained to be on the lookout for what’s wrong and what can be done better, which trains us to tune into FM.  And some of us are just naturally tuned into the FM station.  But by making a conscious effort to tune into AM a few times a day will result in you and those you spend time with being happier and that’s tremendous ROI.

8. Let the Arts In - If you need business justification there’s ample and growing evidence that creativity is the key to innovation and a critical differentiator of leading companies’ success.   But it’s also fun and good for the heart and soul of you and your team (which in turn, if you need another reason, is good for business).   Set up some meetings with your local arts community to find out ways to collaborate.  Find out who the artists are among your team and ask them to share, teach, and celebrate.  

9. Create community - Community is created through shared caring.  Pick a topic you feel strongly about and invite a few like-minded people from inside your company and among your customers and peers to discuss it.  Get together for lunch once a month and dig in.

10. Practice power control -  Emotions are like electricity.  When we’re in a leadership position and are upset, angry, or frustrated it’s easy to pass it on.  It feels good in the short term - getting it off your back - but what you’re really doing is sending along (and sometimes amplifying) an ugly current that zaps the next in line who in turn will pass it along in a depressing circuit of bad vibes.  But you also have the power to send that energy to ground rather than passing it along, and in so doing you stop the flow of whatever negative energy came to you.  Strong emotions can carry important and instructional opportunities but when they are just bad juju try letting it go.  When it’s positive, pass it on.  When it sucks, send it to ground.  That’s true leadership power!

What will be your New Years resolutions? Just  deciding that you will be more mindful will put you and your business on  a happier healthier path.  I hope these ideas provide grist for your planning.  Happy 2015!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Solstice Gifts

On the 21st of December my youngest sister will call, as she does every year, to remind me that the days are getting longer. The call is in mock homage to my father, who every year insisted on spoiling an otherwise wonderful early summer picnic dinner by announcing that the days were getting shorter. We’d all groan - the corn wasn’t even out! - but he considered it his duty to remind us, in the middle of our hopeful June high, that winter would return. We hated it, but it did make the warm evening seem more precious.

My sister’s call is a gift reminding me that even as the days get darker and the nights colder, the turning wheel of the cosmos will soon bring us back to sunshine, warmth, and renewal. Cycles are nature’s way. Humans often forget this, particularly those in charge of making business projections. Give us two data points and we’ll extrapolate an arrow pointing ever upward. Or down.  But even hurtling comets yield to the pull of gravity. They circle as they flame, retracing their orbits across the millennia, just as our lives, our businesses, and our relationships hurtle through their own seasons and cycles.

Seven years ago a meteor shower of cataclysmic power blasted my world. At work it came in the form of betrayal, arrests, and law suits. Then the bottom fell out of the economy and the greed-is-good fairytale blew up, and the fallout destroyed many good people. Collateral damage. Closer to home, my mother - my rock, my most loyal fan, my supporter, my confidant, my confessor, my role model, and my coach - began to fail.   

These were my dark years. But even in the gloom of despair, unbeknown to me as I was consumed with fighting to save my business and my sanity, the seeds of a new beginning were sown.  

At Walker the pain of those years was hard. The company shrunk, withered by the chill of the assault and the icy economy. But even in the grip of that wintry   aftermath, we found our way toward a new spring. We learned from the pain. The lull gave us an opportunity to re-imagine who we wanted to be as a company, as a social enterprise, and as a community. Since then, we have grown anew in size and maturity. Now we are stronger, happier, and healthier than ever.   The excitement is palpable.  Innovative ideas and enthusiasm are popping up like crocus in spring.  

We even discovered a silver lining in the economic collapse. People in large numbers began to recognize that businesses without accountability to society or a purpose beyond profits are a threat to all of us and to our planet.  Social enterprise as a movement began to pick up momentum and reSET, as an organization dedicated to promoting a new way of doing business in Connecticut, found fertile soil in which to grow.

Hardest of all was losing mom. But she left on her own terms, at home, surrounded by her kids and grandkids, using even her parting as a gift, teaching us in her dying just as she had when she was alive. She died in late December of 2011. She had stopped her medications in October not wanting to prolong the inevitable - she understood cycles and seasons. In November, toward the end, there was an unseasonably warm if overcast day. She was weak, but up for a  slow walk down into the field where we’d walked so many times over the years.  It was a gift as we knew the cold was coming. It was our last walk. But just the other day I learned that this spring will herald in the next generation - children of her grandchildren. She would be ecstatic.

I love the message of the solstices: That to each of us there are seasons and cycles. That even in the darkest cold, the seeds for a warmer season are readying.   And to always be on the lookout for a warm day, the miracle of friendship and the opportunity for a walk, as these too shall pass.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Feeling grateful for leaders!

Thinking back over 2014, I am most grateful for the leaders among us.  Some have come into my world with already impressive skills and others with more potential than practice, but what has become increasingly apparent at Walker and at reSET is that leadership is the key to opening the door to our future.

Our search for leaders begins with assessing a candidate’s potential before they are even hired. Then once they are on board, we help encourage, train, and support them to reach the next level of leadership and, after that, the next.

As children, and as new members to a team, we are pre-leaders.  At this stage we are doers.  Pre-leaders and doers follow orders ably enough, but are not yet comfortable thinking creatively on their own to seek solutions in new situations.  Even the most seasoned leaders need to begin their tenure in a new organization at this basic level, where they can absorb the new culture and process, and get to know the people before flexing their leadership muscle.  To do so before you have a lay of the land is presumptuous.  Waiting too long however is equally unproductive.

But once a doer has learned the ropes, they’re in a position to improve things.  The moment someone looks up from the doing and says, “Wait, this doesn’t make sense,” they show a potential for leadership. This initial spark may sound an awful like like criticism, complaining, or whining, but if they follow up with a solution, the fire of leadership can be kindled. 

By asking those inquiring doers a simple question: “What do you think we should do about it?” we can start to develop solutions-oriented leaders. Not those who just notice what needs fixing and then dump those problems on someone else’s desk, but those who figure out their own way to solve the problems they face. These people are powerful and important to any organization. The more leaders we have at this level the more our potential grows.

Then, as solution-driven leaders develop the people skills to lead a team, they can begin to move mountains.  Team leaders harness the collective intellect and energy of a group to get jobs done that couldn’t be accomplished individually.  The best are flexible, and comfortable moving between the roles of leader and doer, as the situation demands.

And finally, visionary team leaders can shape the culture of their organization’s culture and help it forge its way to a new future. I’m proud to work with a number of visionary team leaders and it makes me very very excited about where we’re going from here!

There was a time when I would have said it’s not possible, necessary, or even desirable for everyone on the team to be leaders. Now, I would argue that we can’t become a great organization without every single person pushing ahead rather than waiting to be pulled forward. Things change too quickly, and the landscape is too complex to give anyone the luxury of waiting around for someone to tell them what to do, or to continue rotely doing what they’ve always done.  

But as a team of leaders we become unstoppable. That’s just how it feels right now at Walker and reSet. And for that, I am very grateful!

"The future of organizations is the growth of the people in them. "  - Leadership  Freak

Monday, November 17, 2014

Connecticut - The Social Enterprise State

Connecticut has been searching for an identity that will help us emerge from the shadow of New York and Boston to become a magnet for business and job growth. Social Enterprise could be our secret sauce.   

Social enterprise is a huge and growing movement around the globe, an idea whose time has come. And while many states are working to develop social enterprise ecosystems of their own, no other state has laid claim to this identity - yet. So lets grab it quickly! 

Theres a number a reasons it makes sense for Connecticut. 

We have a rich history of social innovation. Were the home of the first written constitution. And the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who is credited with singlehandedly raising the conscious of a nation to recognize the immorality of slavery. Connecticut can boast the countrys oldest continuously published newspaper, its first public art museum (The Wadsworth Atheneum), and its first public park (Bushnell Park). 
We have an impressive number of highly respected, socially progressive colleges and universities, many of whom are now offering programs in social enterprise and are increasingly graduating students who are not just interested in but insistent on meaningful work. 

We have a tremendous amount of wealth in our state, held by corporations, foundations, and individuals who are interested in going beyond socially responsible investing to making impact investmentsand measuring the return on their investments on multiple bottom lines. 

And most recently, on October 1st of 2014, we passed the most comprehensive social enterprise legislation in the United States. It not only recognizes Benefit Corporations, but enables shareholders to voluntarily elect a preservation clause to protect a companys status as a social enterprise in perpetuity. 

On the first day it was possible to do so, more than 20 companies, including The Walker Group, registered to become the states first social enterprises. Even before the legislation passed, Connecticut was home to some of the best known social enterprises in the United States: Newmans Own, one of the oldest and most recognizable social enterprise brands, and Jackson Labs, a nonprofit which generates a significant percentage of its operating revenues from the sale of lab mice. 

Social Enterprise is complementary our public policies and to the sectors we are working to develop, such as biosciences and green technologies. And social entrepreneurs start the kinds of companies that people are proud to work for, proud to patronize as customers, and proud to invest in. 

Lets capitalize on these strengths! In doing so, we can hold onto our young graduates, who may stay in Connecticut to start their career or to set up their own social enterprise. We can attract social entrepreneurs from other states who come here for training, resources, and to join a community that understands and supports the idea of building businesses focused on making a better world for us all.  And by developing our social enterprise ecosystem, we will attract impact investment dollars to further benefit the state. 

ReSET (SocialEnterpriseTrust.org) has helped to build an engine here in Connecticut that can spearhead this effort.  With programming aimed to help launch new social enterprise, co-working, space, mentors, funding, and the social enterprise challenge which gave out $50K in cash and prizes this year there’s a lot of support to help make it happen.  And with this progress we’ve seen increasing support from the municipal and state governments as well as business and the nonprofit community.  It could happen!

Its revolutionary, its evolutionary, and its sexier than being known as the Nutmeg State or the Land of Steady Habits. 

Lets be the state that encourages businesses which create jobs to solve community problems.   

Lets make Connecticut the social enterprise state. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Great article in the New Yorker on the benefit of Benefit Corporations!

Great Article in the New Yorker - The Benefits of Benefit Corporations by

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Business Rainbow

Once upon a time we lived in a world where there was a knight in shining armor for every damsel in distress.   Until we discovered that some damsels preferred damsels, and some knights preferred dresses, and the very idea of damsel and knight are really just points on a continuum.   And we’re learning that this is ok.

Our LBGT friends understood long before the rest of us that the world is not simple, not binary, not digital.  It’s wonderful shades of every imaginable color including hues we can not see but perhaps hear with our hearts.  And science keeps collecting the proof:
  • In a Brazilian cave there is an insect who’s female wears the penis in the family.  
  • It is the male seahorse who is man enough to do the work of incubating eggs in his brood pouch.
  • All clown fish are born male.  The largest turns female and rules the school.  When she dies the next biggest fish switches gender becoming head honcha.

Once upon a time business was limited to sole proprietorships.  Then came partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability companies, corporations (S and C), nonprofits, ESOPs, co-ops, and now social enterprise companies.  Like our concept of family, we’re learning that the free market can mean many things to different people.  Each business type having it’s place, it’s role and it’s due respect.  Business too need not be black and white.   While once upon a time it was understood that the only business of business was to make a profit for owners.  Today’s entrepreneurs feel freer to design a business around what is meaningful and important to them.  And for a growing group of social entrepreneurs, profits are not enough;  profits are a means to a more important end - solving some social or environmental problem.  But just because they are not driven by money doesn’t make them any less serious and it doesn’t make their businesses any less viable, scalable, or legitimate.

I remember awhile ago being told that someone I knew was transgender.   “I knew something was off,”  was my flippant response.  In reflection I realize how dismissive and disrespectful my statement was.  It was said in the same way that I’ve heard traditional business folk talk about social enterprise - as if it’s “off” in some amusing or disturbing way.   But it’s not.  It’s a reasonable, natural business approach, a response to the world we find ourselves in.  

And it isn’t going away.   Social enterprise is here to stay.  It is a hybrid, it’s out of the closet.  So say it clear and say it loud -  We’re social enterprise and we’re proud!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Connecticut passes America's most comprehensive Social Enterprise Legislation!

At 7 minutes to midnight on the last day of the Connecticut's legislative session, a law passed giving you the right to run business whose primary aim is to solve a social or environmental problem.   And just as the passing of civil rights did not an equal society make, this law in and of itself will not transform our business landscape, but it's an important milestone in the movement toward embracing a different way of doing business.

It took a village to get here. We started with the desire to make CT a hub of social enterprise and realized that to get there we need this legislation. It's important for three reasons:  It enables impact investors  to find and screen companies they want to invest in - businesses that can provide both social and financial returns.  In addition, social entrepreneurs can now take on investors without fear of being sued for considering social impact at the expense of maximizing financial returns to those shareholders.   And lastly, the bill also legitimizes the concept of social enterprise.  While it's possible to establish a social enterprise without legislation (I did), it's expensive, time consuming, and seems fringy.  We've been acculturated to think that the only legitimate purpose of a business is to make money.  And while this isn't really so, and has not always been the case, today that idea is so pervasive as to be unquestioned.  But for a social enterpreneur profitability is a means to an end, rather than the end itself.  It's the idea of eating to live rather than living to eat.    Now we have a law that acknowledges that saving the planet (or some small corner of it) is a legitimate raison d'etre for business.  The law makes the concept more mainstream - Main Street.

Four years isn't such a long time to get legislation passed when you learn that it took more than 50 years for women to get the vote.  It takes time.  Ghandi described the phases of a movement: first they ignore you, then they laugh, then they fight, then you win. In that first year we didn't have a clue, and figured as soon as we explained the idea behind social enterprise everyone would leap on board and we'd be done. We raised little interest or attention - we were largely ignored.  Later, when we were given audience it was sometimes offered witha generous serving of condescention; they thought the idea was naive, patted us on our well-meaning heads and sent us on our way.  They laughed.  But we didn't go away.  That's when we met concerns that maybe social enterprise was code for something more sinister.  You'll note the similarity between social enterprise, socialist, and socialism! The fight was on.  We still didn't give up.  We became more educated and better organized; we got strategic, we enslisted support and we moved the ball forward.  We educated anyone who would listen, won over some opponents who fought us because they misunderstood what we were about, and explained that there's nothing more free market than being open to other goals. The third year proved to be the charm.  We had familiarity, momentum, and lots of support on our side.  We pressed hard and we brought it home. We, and by extension, all of us, won.

And in doing so Connecticut can boast having the most comprehensive social enterprise legislation in the country.  Because only in Connecticut can you, if all of your shareholders agree, lock in your status as a social enteprise, protecting in perpetuity its status as a social enterprise.  For a business owner that wants to leave a legacy in a company that will always have at it's core the purpose of making our world a better place, Connecticut has it!  

We did it!  In terms of our overall goal of making Connecticut a hub of social enteprise this is of course only the begining.  This law is an important, foundational cornerstone in the social enteprise movement and our goal to create a vibrant social enterprise community here in our state.  With this law in place, Connecitcut can encourage and demonstrate the transformative power of the free market when it is harnessed to impact.  With this law Connecticut is open for social enterprise business.

It was a high five moment, one to celebrate.   

The legislation passed!  I wish it sounded more grand.  A marathon is run.  A mountain scaled.  A victory  won.  And our bill passed - sounds more like gas or a gallstone.  There should be a more triumphal word.  But whatever - it is a relief!

The bill passed.  The movement goes on :>)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Get the picture?

Quick - Woman business leader - what image comes to mind?  If you follow popular media the picture you probably have is of a woman in a tailored suit carrying a briefcase in one hand and possibly a baby in the other.  Get ready to get real, because as Sheryl Sandberg says, “you can’t be what you can’t see,”.   

According to a recent New York Times article Sandberg’s nonprofit LeanIn.org is partnering with Getty Images to provide images that show the true multiplicity and variations of women (and men) at work and home breaking down the stereotypes we've become accustomed to but which are no longer (if they ever were) reflective of reality.

There’s plenty wrong with media and the way it distorts and distracts us from what’s important, but there’s no denying the power of media to open up a portal in our minds to a place where something brand new becomes possible, then acceptable, and at some point very normal.   I don’t think it is coincidental that there were black presidents portrayed in movies long before Obama was elected and that several hit programs featured likable gay characters as we watched the national support for gay rights soar.
I love the idea of seeing more real images of powerful women and nurturing men included in our daily mashup of images.  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Leadership Lessons - Letters to my Teenage Son: A Valentine

I love you!  And please remember…

1.  I will always be behind you.
2.  I am not as dumb as you think I am.
3.  My name isn't Rover.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Vacation Space

It was not just my inbox that was over-crowded - every facet of my life seemed to be bursting at the seams, including my heart and my head.  The tools that should help me control my life  were instead controlling me.  And then I went on vacation.  I did check email every couple of days but I only answered one time-sensitive critical message. The rest were simply sorted into 4 categories - Urgent (to be dealt with Day One upon my return), Important (by the end of Week One upon my return),  It Can Wait (and still is), and Junk which I immediately dispatched to the trash with delight.  But that was it.  The only other apps I used were Harbor Master (don’t judge), Kindle (still blows my mind how much easier it is to pack when you don’t need space for reading material!!!), and an atlas app to help me understand where in the world we were (it actually holds promise for remediating my embarrassing deficit in geographical grounding).
I came home a changed woman.  The buzz that was the accumulative ricochet of millions of often useless but ambitious data bits screaming for my attention had died from neglect.  To wake up with the only decision being where to ski and who gets to choose a dinner spot is bliss.  A space opens up where everything slows down and  you can actually pay attention to one thing, one person, one strand of thought for more than a minute.  It’s a blessing and a cure.  Now the trick is to see how long I can hold on to this peace.   No illusions.  I’m 5 days back and I’ve already been pulled into the deep end of overload, but I’m aware of both the falling, and the coming back to center.  I’m aware of both the need to retreat and the way to do it.  See it, distance it, let go and breathe.  
One of the first things I did when I returned was to sign up for a mindful leadership retreat.  If there’s one thing I need for myself that will also do the most to benefit my work, my family, and my friends is to hold onto this space, for the clarity it provides feels like intelligence, the calmness like joy.
Alba di Canazei -Photo by Steve Silk

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Happy Tetris

When I spend the weekend working on a portrait I find it impossible to sit politely with anyone for days after  without analyzing their facial bone structure and how I would translate that onto canvas.   “Hello?” my patient husband asks when he catches me just staring at him across the dining room table rather than answering a question.   After reading Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage”  I realized this is the Tetris Effect, and I plan to put it to use in my life, my business, and my relationships.   
He explains that when we play video games for long stretches our brains habituate.  He describes a study wherein students were asked to play Tetris for several hours three days in a row after which they found they couldn’t turn it off.   The students describe seeing Tetris blocks falling and fitting into the landscape around them be it buildings on the horizon or cereal boxes on the grocery shelves.   Think about what that means to those of us who tend to focus on the negative - the bad, the sad, or the people who irritate the snot out of us.  Achok talks about the problem that professionals face when they are trained to find problems (lawyers, accountants, IT network troubleshooters…):  If all day every day you’re looking for problems you’re playing Problem Tetris.  And not only is it less fun than Happy Tetris, it reduces your creativity, raises your blood pressure, and comes home with you - oh joy - Mom’s home with another suggestion for how to improve domestic efficiency!  
The good news is you can retrain your brain.  Achok reminds us that our brains have very sophisticated spam filters to protect us from having to absorb the bazillions of data bits coming at us every day.  So we can (with focus) take charge of what get’s our attention and what gets filtered out.  And when we train our brain to focus on the positive, screening out the unnecessary crap we benefit in three important ways:   Happiness, Gratitude, and Optimism.  And if having more happiness, gratitude and optimism in your life isn’t reason enough, studies demonstrate that these emotions lead to greater material success as well.  
A simple method for retraining your brain is to make a daily list of the good things that happened at work and at home.    By writing down just three positive things you’re forcing (retraining) your brain to scan for the positive.   Or rather than journaling about the problems you’re facing spend 20 minutes writing about a positive experience.   Studies show that not only do changes in your happiness quotient appear quickly, they last.  Count me in! 
The Happiness Advantage explores six other principles of positive psychology and how it applies to home and work.   Read it and smile :>)