Monday, December 30, 2013

5 Discoveries To Propel Me Into The New Year

Each item on my list hit me just like this photo, mostly for good

As we close 2013, I am compelled to look back at that the past year and sift through everything for the all the lessons I need to take forward with me. So much has happened since Jan 1, I am truly hard pressed to pick the most important or significant happenings but I'm forcing myself to do so. Here goes - the top 5 discoveries about myself and/or my business from 2013:

1.  I am not a pet person and I am not evil because of it.

At some point over the second full year we have owned our lovable dachshund, Chica, I realized that I am not a pet person. My temperament and natural instincts do not jive with animals in a long term relationship. The bigger discovery in this, I am not evil because of it. American culture makes non-animal lovers out to be evil, sinister or unkind people. That fact was half the battle with my coming to terms with my condition as non-pet person. I wanted to be a pet person. I'd chastised myself for not warming up to it, even as we adopted and bonded with an adorable dog. Now, I love our dog and care for her deeply and I'm doing my best to cherish the time I have with her but I'm doing it in freedom of accepting my status as a non-pet person.

2.  My company is going to change the country's discussion on Inclusion and Diversity.

One year ago now, I'd imagined that my business would crack into more corporate opportunities. I did not know how or when or what those opportunities would look like but I knew we'd somehow make an impact and move into the corporate arena. I'm super grateful for a call back in the late spring from a former colleague of mine at The Home Depot that set this new influence into motion. Between my work on a contract for Accenture and The Home Depot project, Relationships Matter Now is a new and distinctive voice in Inclusion and Diversity. We are being sought for conferences and across industries for consultation on how to best move forward inclusion and diversity strategies. For us it is simple, taking RMN's brand promise of engage, collaborate and lead, we will change the way companies view and implement inclusion as a strategy to move their businesses forward in the 21st century.

3.  I am not an angry person.

This is a very recent and fresh discovery. See my post from last week for more elaboration here. I love this one because society feeds that false narrative to strong, forward thinking black women any opportunity it can. I could name many examples recent and in the past that confirm that the world would like us to buy the narrative that black women who speak their minds and push forward their causes are angry. Hell, I'd even given myself an excuse for my "anger". It worked. Until it didn't. You see, I have much evidence that I am a lot of things, passionate, powerful, emotive, assertive, outspoken but not angry. This discovery is tied with the next one for my favorites of the year.

4.   My intentionality for connections propels my life and business.

One of the most important needs I have is the need for connectedness. I believe I need to be connected much more than others due to my mom's departure early in life. As I've aged, I have perfected the art of extending the branch for connection to everyone I meet. It is fascinating to watch me in action. I could tell you story-after-story of how this impacted me this year but only one story matters... the story of meeting Ernestine Beck-Fulghum. This woman was "randomly" seated in an audience of over 100 people who came to hear me speak about strategic planning at a conference for elected officials in Illinois last Oct. As I closed the successful talk - about 80% of the attendees rushed forward, I did what I always do in this case - looked for connection points with each person who took the time to come and meet me. My connection to Ms. Beck-Fulghum was my mom's hometown of Robbins, IL. That one fact and my ability to quickly articulate it connected me with someone who knew my mom, my hero,  and I am forever grateful for that encounter. I have no idea where it will lead but it changed my whole year.

5.   Building gratefulness into my life physically.

Picking up the idea from my Twitter BFF, I started an awesome jar to record all the good and great things that happened to me, my family and my business this year.  The idea, is to record on paper every time something awesome happens and collect it in a visible place. At the end of the year, you are to open it up and acknowledge and be grateful for all the good that has happened. It is full as I look at it now and I can't wait to go through the papers tomorrow night. What I love the most about the concept is the intentional act of stopping and recording the good. Of course, we remember good things but most often we remember and carry the hurts, the slights, the disappointments. I feel them in my body as I type this. It is a full 360 degree exercise to intentionally think about and record good. I also feel the good things I put in the jar as I write about them. I want to fill my jar with double the good things in 2014.

As I move into the new year and start to lay out my objectives, I am grateful for these discoveries that have impacted my life and business greatly. What are the discoveries of 2013 that propel you into the new year?

Monday, December 23, 2013

What Lie About Yourself Will You Debunk This Holiday Season?

Me - Circa Fall 1976. Gingham rules.
During the holiday season, passing through the houses of your family, you always get a glimpse of yourself at different points in time. One of the benefits of holidays is the nostalgia of holidays past. Another benefit is the contrasts of what we can see and hear from others versus what we have told ourselves over the years.

The pretty little lies we tell ourselves.

This year, I debunked one of the lies I'd held onto especially since becoming a parent. Ironically, it was the picture you see here that started the debunking process.

Let me frame this picture for you. This picture was taken in the fall of 1976. I was four years old about to be five and had just started kindergarten at Pensacola Christian Academy. Less than 60 days before this photo was taken , the unthinkable happened on August 19th - my young mom left this life on earth.  Now that you know that, look into the eyes of this young babe. What do you see?

I see life. Hope. Wonder. Happiness. Joy.

And that is the polar opposite of what I've told myself over the years. My short fuse and hot temper,  which has really calmed since become a parent,  had always been attributed to anger. I thought that I was angry and that it all started when I lost my mom. I believed that created characterization of myself. It comforted me after a certain rage or outburst, "it's OK, Denise. You're an angry person and you always have been," I'd say to myself, practically justifying my bad behavior. After all, I did lose my mom right before I started kindergarten. If anyone had a REASON to be angry, I did and righteously so. I even gave myself "credit" for controlling my anger well throughout the years.

Seeing that photo above in my dad's house the week after Thanksgiving gave me pause. For the first time in a long time, I stopped and looked at it. Then I proceeded to look at all the photos he had of me from the early days and there are few as we lost many of them in a storage debacle in the 90s.  Lots of laughter, loads of light-hearted moments captured time and time again. Each photo of me showing a love of life and joy. Each photo confirming the previous one, I was genuinely a happy child. And that happy child has grown up to be a genuinely happy adult.

Yes, I have an explosive temper. Yes, my fuse is short. But I am not angry. Passionate, emotive, outspoken but not angry.

Now I ask you, especially in these days of family visits and holiday festivities - what lies about yourself are you holding on to? In what ways can you revisit who you are and embrace your true characteristics versus the false ones you may have created?

I am relieved to realize that I am not angry, I get angry but I do not hold anger as a character trait. What an amazing discovery this holiday season! Can't wait to hear about yours.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Changing The Country's Relationship With Inclusion

See the difference?

All my life, I've been exposed to issues of diversity. Born in 1971, my entry into the world was precipitated by the new era of equal opportunity for all Americans. By the time I had my first job in 1993, we'd been almost 30 years into this era yet attitudes about equal opportunity were shifting. Fast forward to 2013, the second full year of my entrepreneurial venture and yet again topics of diversity, equal opportunity and inclusion hunted me down for my point of view.

Leading a strategic business venture and constantly consulting with government, nonprofit and organizations of all types and sizes, my perspective on diversity and inclusion is always a topic of discussion, even when it isn't.  Instead of giving my "tried and true" diversity class taught response, this year, I started to give my true thoughts on the subject because my relationship with diversity and inclusion has been the same since I entered the workforce 20 years ago. The only difference now, is I'm in a position to spread my point of view and bring others along in a big way.

It is not rocket science or anything earth shattering yet it is both. The simplicity of my point of view is not marred by the complexity of the issue it seeks to solve. Each day I speak about and consult on the direction inclusion and diversity must go, it is clearer to me that my company and I must lead the way. This huge and daunting task does not scare me. It energizes me. My perspective on the topic is now being sought by Fortune 500 and small companies alike. The once reluctant diversity practitioner is now an inclusion strategist. My inclusion strategy work hinges on the following:

Inclusion must include everyone.

Inclusion is essentially a leadership and competency discussion.

It is that simple.  Yes, there are many issues of inequality and oppression that have gotten the United States to its current state today. However, we must be able to count on every one to take us where we need to go. We do not have critical mass in leadership among minorities or women however, our current strategies to get there are not working, particularly in corporate America.

We need to lift the veil of secrecy for upward mobility in these environments. All organizations need to understand and articulate what it takes to lead. This will be different in different places, there is no "one size fits all" formula.  From there, it will be necessary to make a joint effort with education officials to build a pipeline of qualified candidates to lead and cast the net out to all areas of our society to build and grow those leaders.

So now we go to work, transforming the country's attitude about this very important topic, one organization at a time.  There is lots of work to be done to change our country's relationship with inclusion. I am excited that Relationships Matter Now is leading the way.

Monday, December 9, 2013

I Am Mandela. You Are Mandela.

As I stepped off the plane from a quick trip last week, my breath was taken away by the news I read in my Facebook feed, "RIP Nelson Mandela." Of course, I knew the day would come when we'd say goodbye to cultural icon, Nelson Mandela who was 95 at the time of his death. I just was not prepared for that day, just yet.

Ironically, I'd just read an excerpt from a recently release book of a friend and noted racial reconciliation author, Ed Gilbreath.  Remembering Birmingham is a short e-book that reflects on the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail written by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The complexity and conflict of being a leader of the civil rights movement was palatable to me as I read this quick tome. Earlier that week, in a conversation with my 76 year old father, the topic of my activism came up. My dad carefully asked me if I'd considered myself a radical.

I paused to really absorb his question and he immediately began to apologize and started to take back the question when I interrupted him.

"Actually, dad, that is a great word for what I am." We ended up talking about why I was OK with the word and what it stood for and we spoke about Dr. King and his work, specifically in Alabama as I was headed to that state that very week. After the conversation with my dad, I'd been wrestling with his question and my "full on" embrace of the radical label. Nelson Mandela crossed my mind during this reflection. I tucked those thoughts away as I prepared for my trip. Traveled to Alabama, accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and on the way back finally read the e-book I'd downloaded in October.

It is no coincidence that the conversations, reading the e-book and the passing of Mandela all occurred when it did. These events are all interrelated.

This all matters for one reason: A rallying call for me and my fellow leaders.

We are called to be radicals. Radicals for good. Radicals for justice. Radicals for equality. The passing of Nelson Mandela last week only solidifies my thinking about leadership and my own place in society. We can no longer wait for the next ... Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. We are it. I am she. It's been clear to me since my early 20s and most of my actions to date support this. We are the leaders we've been looking for. Clearly the accomplishments of Dr. King and/or Mandela will never be replicated. It is a different time. We face some of the same issues but both those great men pushed doors open that must be continuously walked through by as many of us as possible.  In all areas of our lives we must continue to strive to lead from a place of integrity and lift up as many people in the process as we can.  Not only on  MLK day in January or Madiba's birthday in July but every day.

My heart is heavy at the passing of Nelson Mandela but I fully embrace the challenge to carry on his legacy. #IAmMandela

Monday, December 2, 2013

3 Benefits Of Relaxing Completely

Last week, I did something I have not done much since I ventured out on my own to run Relationships Matter Now, LLC. I completely relaxed on the island of Jamaica to end my favorite month of every year.

Like many other entrepreneurs, I am wound pretty tight and uber focused on my growing my business. Not many days go by that I am not thinking about, working on, networking for or otherwise moving my tiny but mighty business forward. It is a daunting task to completely relax for me.

As an entrepreneur, this is the toughest part of our jobs. Unplugging and spending focused time relaxing. While I have not done it much in the last 2 years my company has been my full-time gig, I can honestly say I relaxed and did it well last week defines relax this way:

1. To take one's ease; rest.
2. To become lax or loose.
3. To become less severe or strict.
4. To become less restrained or tense.
5. To reduce in intensity; slacken:
While it was very difficult to do, I recommend anyone do it from time to time and here's three reasons why...

Fresh Perspective

One can never have too much perspective in my humble opinion. Removing yourself completely from your environment is a great way to gain perspective you need on your own life and situation. Being on the island, with nowhere to be at no specific time was also a completely different perspective for me. It helped me to see just how much work I cram in daily and in every crevice of almost every day. I most certainly will find ways to steal away for rest thanks to the perspective I gained on this trip. I also found myself reflecting on different things while away from work. Reflecting on my life as a wife and mom more than I have in a long time. I also had time to devour the latest Malcolm Gladwell book which challenged me in a number of ways. My closest relationships will benefit tremendously from my newly gained perspective while in paradise.

True Rest

Our bodies and minds need rest. I am a stickler for getting 8-9 hours of sleep nightly but clearly I stink at resting myself well in other ways.  Nothing was more telling than my outright mind and body release the second day on the island. I could barely move. It was great to not have to. Rest or respite (my preferred word) is needed on a much more grander scale than my insistence on nightly sleep. We need to take a break from our regular routines. We need to sleep more than we normally do. We need to break away from our normal thought patterns. We need to disrupt our habits. We need to stop. Stop and just be. It is really tough to do but really rewarding when we do it.  

New Energy

What I'm feeling in the post vacation after glow is not an island hangover. I am feeling a burst of new energy. New energy around my life  and every role I have.  Ideas on how to apply some of the knowledge I gained from doing nothing for those few days are just one of the welcomed side effects of the full relaxation exercise. I have no tension at all in my body and so my sleep last night was amazing. It's like I got a new, clean slate to start with this day. As I was making my "To Do" list, there was an added sense of urgency for every item that made the list. I have no meetings on deck and I'm sure that is a God send since I am amped up full of ideas and energy for my work.

It's been some time since I completely relaxed like I did last week. I can't even remember the last time but I know it was well before I started my business or even the journey to my business over 5 years ago.  I was way overdue and will challenge myself to find mini-respites to experience the tremendous upsides of total relaxation more often. You'd be wise to join me.