Monday, March 30, 2015

In Like A Lion: What To Do When Life Roars Ferociously

Gorgeous lions living "outside my door" in Chicagoland
March came in like a lion and and is leaving just the same. From the extreme high of launching my second non-fiction book at the 27th Annual Forum on Workplace Inclusion to the extreme low of watching my 9 year old swell up unrecognizably in an allergic reaction that was resisting meds in the  ER over the weekend, this March has roared ferociously from start to finish. And honestly, I'm looking forward to a new month later this week.

Each week of March was full of activity, not all activity immediately "productive," the worst kind of activity for an enterprise like mine. Personal and professional ups and downs. So much so that time to post in this venue never arrived until now. I never stopped creating but my consistent creating here was horribly interrupted. What do you do when life roars as a lion directly in your face for consecutive days, weeks, months as it has for me the last seven months? These three actions kept and keep me going.

Know You Are Your Story, Not Your Circumstances

I am in a shitty season of life right now. No way around it. There are so many very good things going on for me and my family but there are also some really rough things we are working through at the same time. And it is not easy. However, I know my story. My story of triumph over tragedy. My story of character in the face of disgrace. My story of doing what's right regardless the cost. I also know my family's story and it is very similar to my personal one. We have experienced tough times before. We have seen plenty and scarcity. We know and experience joy and love. We are supportive of others and have received support. We have fun in spite of what we "see." We focus on what's important and let go of what's not. Knowing our story has helped us not focus on the circumstances we are currently facing. We are bigger than what's going on right now - good or bad. Our ability to "be" during trying times are what make us who we are - not what is happening around us.

Remember, Life Is Seasonal

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. - Ecclesiastes 3:1 NLT

When life is good, I often forget to enjoy it fully because I just keep pushing. I have made it an intention to focus and enjoy life more in the last 18 months or so and I am glad. For fully enjoying life when it is good helps bolster you when it is challenging. Savoring life's blessings big and small gives you good practice when facing rough waters. The ability to see it all as fleeting and seasonal is wonderful perspective that builds resilience. Resilience makes storms appear as the temporal challenges they really are. Keeping a seasonal outlook to life is good business.

Share Your Heartache

Perhaps the most challenging for people like me (and I imagine many others) is opening up about your pain. One human reaction to pain is resistance and another is shame. We hate being in pain and will often deny it but even worse is our tendency to hide it from those with whom we share our lives. Thankfully, the last two years have seen me sharing my pain and letting others assist me in carrying  the burden. This one action has trumped the other two because it gets me outside my own head. It allows for added perspective on my trouble and enables others to help me with solutions. Further, people want to help. We deny them the opportunity when we hold our challenges in secret. Allowing others to share your heartache breaks your heartache into smaller parts and thus makes it easier to endure.

So, while I am looking forward to a new month that will hopefully give way to a new season, I am prepared either way.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Why Relationships Mattered In Chicago's Mayor's Race

Almost one week ago, a small percentage of voters in Chicago made their wishes known. They wanted a choice to the current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Let me start by saying, I don't have a true horse in this race as a suburban Chicagoland dweller. Yes, indirectly, my life and business are affected by the viability of the great city of Chicago but I want it clear that this commentary is coming from an outsider's view.

Relationships mattered a lot in the 2015 Chicago Mayor's race. Really, the lack of relationships mattered most.

I have followed Rahm's tenure as mayor and it has been contentious. And, my goodness, why wouldn't it have been? He followed the 22 year reign of Richard M. Daley. Chicago was and continues to be at a crossroads. The gem of the midwest, Chicago has always had an underdog feel to it. Second to other parts of the country in a host of categories yet gritty enough to claim leadership in a select few areas, Chicago has always had a "Phoenix" feel of rising from the ashes of one setback to a bigger and better place, again and again.

Rahm Emanuel swept back in town with tight business and Washington ties and connections that he promised to use to bring Chicago into a greater position to live up to its promise as the heart of the nation.  From my seat, he did lots of that. He has strengthened the city's position as a tech hub contender. He set an aggressive energy and sustainability agenda that he's been successful in executing. He increased access to STEM opportunities for the most under served students in the city.  He's opened access to free early undergrad education to any high schooler that qualifies.

So what's the problem? Why is Emanuel facing a runoff by a candidate he outspent 12 to 1?

It's not what he did, it's how he did it.

People think Rahm Emanuel is ruthless. Google his name and not one article is written without reference to the term "ruthless operative." People don't see Rahm as a leader, they seem him as an operative. I don't know if it's true but I know he could have managed his perception better had he built authentic relationships throughout the city. I can relate to Rahm on the perception of being cold and heartless. 

As a leader, I have the ability to make tough decisions and compartmentalize my emotions as well. People perceive that as being heartless. I get it. And to some degree, I do believe it's slightly true with me. The first and best nurturer in my life passed away when I was 4 years old and that fact absolutely plays into the level of compassion I am able to have and convey. But I learned early in life that no one cares that I grew up without my mom. People expect me to be sympathetic. People expect me to be empathetic. People expect me to care about them and what affects them. That was and continues to be true in any setting I operate in and want to influence. 

Therefore, I make it a point to surround myself with other leaders with bigger hearts than mine. People close to me, who advise, guide and often times, represent me and my business when I cannot. They are my team. Hand cultivated and selected to compliment the areas where I am deficient.

Where is Rahm's team? Again, it is a spectator sport,  for me, watching Chicago politics. I don't gain anything with Rahm or his challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia at the helm in Chicago's City Hall. As a fellow leader who is known for making tough decisions and having tough conversations, I'd be remiss not to send a message to Rahm.

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Do the work. 
Build relationships with your constituents, not just the important ones. 
Curate an advisory staff to help you navigate and relate in areas you are deficient. 
Be inclusive, gain insight and co-create solutions with the people most affected by your decisions.
And enable others to lead. 

It may be too late for this election but these truths are evergreen and can go with you where ever you wish to lead.


A fellow tough leader.