The Secret? Surround Yourself By Greatness

Simple messages often resonate longer and louder.  I heard one this week that is doing just that.

Tuesday had been a mentally challenging day for me, in a positive way.  Still, as I left work and headed for home, long after the time I intended to, my mind needed to decompress.  I was flipping through various radio stations when I came across Oprah’s voice.  Something about her tone made me stop and listen.  She was teaching herLifeclass and the guest was Bishop TD Jakes.  I didn’t know who he was, but his booming voice captivated me.  It turns out that Bishop Jakes is the senior pastor at The Potter’s House, a 30,000 strong non-denominational church in Dallas.

He was speaking about mothers who have not had a good role model for a variety of reasons when I heard him say, “You have to surround yourself by greatness in order to be great.”  His point was that just because someone did not have a good role model as a mother, as long as they surround themselves with great mothers now, they will learn to be great mothers.

You have to surround yourself by greatness in order to be great.

The power of those simple words spoke volumes to me because I believe them.  They apply in so many ways:

  • You want to be a great leader? Surround yourself with great leaders who you can emulate and learn from.
  • You want to be better at your job?  Surround yourself with others in your field who push themselves to success so that you can learn how they internally motivate themselves, how they train, how they reach the heights they reach.
  • You want to be a better parent?  Associate with parents who make time for their kids, who participate in their interests and who show their love and support openly.
By surrounding yourself with people who behave in ways that are positive and align with the type of person you want to be, you are more likely to incorporate those behaviors into your life.  How do I know?  I have been doing this for years and believe that all my success comes from great family, friend and professional mentors.
How about you?


Break The Cycle of Unrealistic Expectations woke up early this morning, again, and started flipping through channels.  I somehow landed on ‘Little People, Big World’.  I was only half watching it when I noticed the mom having an argument with her teenage son.  For some reason it seems like my attention is drawn to moms who argue with their kids lately.  At any rate, I watched the interaction.

The crux of the argument was that the son lost his backpack and with it all his notebooks, pencils, etc.  Mom told him it was his responsibility to find the backpack and that it wasn’t her problem  because she had done her part by buying his supplies in the first place.  The son was upset and basically shut down because he had no idea how to handle the situation.  As a parent, I understand her frustration.  But, as an outside observer, I also thought that her expectations of her child to be able to figure out how to solve this problem on his own was unrealistic for his age.

I see this all the time.  It’s not just people on TV that aren’t measuring up to the expectations of those around them.  It’s in our workplace, it’s in our communities, and in our own homes.

That begs the question:

Are the expectations too high, or are we really failures?

It seems like a simple observation, but if we’re constantly expecting more from ourselves and the people around us than we, or they, can possibly deliver, is that a good thing?  Now, I’m not saying we need to throw out goals, or even stretch goals.  What I am asking though is why is it that no matter where you work, there never seems to be enough staff for the workload?  Why is it that managers say they do not have staff that can meet all the deadlines and do a great job every time?  It’s the same no matter who I talk to or what organization they work for.

It may be simple to figure out that we are setting everyone up for failure.  What is challenging to figure out is how to change that.  How can you as the manager set realistic goals and expectations when you probably report to someone who has unrealistic expectations of you?

How do we break this cycle?  Can we?  Tell me what you think in the comments.

Gen Y and Millennials Ain’t Got Nothing On Me

So, you think that Gen Y and the Millennials invented the idea of feeling entitled?  Well, it’s not true.  No, other generations of young people have felt entitled.  I felt that way too.  Yes, Gen X has our share of dreamers and employees that were so eager to take on new challenges.  The difference I’m seeing is that when I was early in my career, I had older and wiser bosses who knew just when and how to put me in my place.  There wasn’t concern about hurting feelings with direct feedback.  They just did it.  They lived it.  I never once felt coddled.

I remember being twenty-seven years old and feeling like I knew it all.  I thought I knew better than my boss and I really believed I could “see the big picture”.  I just knew he was holding me back.  After all, I had a M.A. in HR Management and a few years of experience.  Why couldn’t he SEE how ready I was for a promotion?

Well, for starters, I didn’t put in enough time.  In my exempt role, I thought work could be left at the door when I headed for home.  Second, I didn’t do anything proactive to continue my learning in the human resources field.  No webinars.  No articles.  Nothing.  Third, I focused on administrative tasks.  I wasn’t stretching myself to think of the impact of my tasks.  Fourth, I had no idea what my boss really did.  To me, it looked like he was on the phone and in meetings.  How hard was that?

I remember the day I told my dad this boss was holding me back.  He gave me some great advice that I still embrace today:

  • Shadow your boss.  Find out what he really does and how he reached that position.  Watch for skills he uses to connect with people in the company and if he is successful, model those.
  • Come to work early and work late.  Learning how to do more than administrative tasks takes time and practice.  Back then, this meant many hours in the office.  Today, using technology, it’s easy to work early in the morning or late at night from the comfort of your home.
  • Keep educating yourself.  Always.  It’s not your company’s responsibility to do it all for you.
  • Volunteer to take on more challenging work without expecting money or title.  Those will come in time.

Somehow, I made it to a more mature state of mind.  I like to think I grew up.  Not sure that it had anything at all to do with my generation, it was just more of a life lesson.

How did you progress through your career?  Did you experience any similar feelings?  What generation are you?

Training Programs: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Photo via

I heard a story on CNN’s American Morning about bullying.  There is a school program called Sociable Kidz that several schools are beginning to embrace.  This program, designed by two teachers, will focus on the child who is the victim of bullying and teach that child skills to improve his or her confidence and self-esteem.  It also gives them techniques to respond to the bully when a situation arises.  While all this sounds good, what was missing for me in the CNN story was what the schools are doing to address the child who IS the bully.  Are they offering skills training for them?  Do they just punish without correcting the behavior?  Do they get rid of the child by expulsion?

Training to combat a specific problem or situation in the workplace should be no different.  There needs to be skill development for employees on both sides of the issue.  For example, if you are providing training to managers on how to give feedback, it would make sense to give training to staff on how to receive feedback.  But, we all know that does not happen in most organizations.  Feedback is a one-way street that a manager walks down.  It shouldn’t be that way, but tends to be.  A balanced training program should address both sides of the skill deficiency or issue in order to really help provide a change in behaviors, thus a change in culture.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  How has training been handled in organizations you’ve been part of?  Ever have one that addresses both side of the training coin?

Does Being In Love Make You A Better Manager?

*Sharing from the Valentine archive….

With Valentine’s Day less than a week away, I’ve been thinking about love.  In fact, this time of year, stories about being in love are all around.  As I was driving to work last week, there was a brief story on satellite radio about people behaving better when they are in love.  This sparked an idea about whether or not being in love, or being loved in general, can make a person be a better manager.  So, I set out to find out.

I found study after study that tout the health and other benefits of being in love or being loved.  The key is not only physical, but mental.

People who are loved:

  • have lower stress levels
  • get better sleep
  • take fewer risks
  • practice more preventative health
  • have increased levels of Dopamine (which positively affects pleasure and motivation)

Just yesterday, the Washington Post ran an article on the health benefits of falling  and staying in love.  According to them, “Hugging and hand-holding have been found to release the hormone oxytocin, which lowers the levels of stress hormones in the body, reducing blood pressure, improving mood and increasing tolerance for pain, according to research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

So, I wonder, does being loved or in love make you a better manager?  I think it can.  If you are experiencing some of the benefits mentioned above on a regular basis, you are likely to bring a more positive attitude to work.  Theoretically, you should be able to better manage your responses to stressful situations.  And on the flip side, if you are going through personal relationship problems at home or if you are depressed, it will be much more challenging for you as a manger.  You will have to somehow overcompensate at work just to be able to motivate others.  Hard to do when you’re not feeling very motivated yourself.

In order to provide an environment that fosters employee engagement and coaching, HR needs to think outside the box.  Maybe the missing link is our ability to help support employees who are having personal relationship difficulties.  What do you think?

Mentoring: Value At All Ages. Who’s Yours?

I had a little “incident” at home.  I tried to open a jar and couldn’t do it.  Actually, it’s happened a few times recently and each time, my eight year old son comes to my rescue.  I hate to admit that getting older can mean that I lose certain abilities such as strength or dexterity.  I was also reluctant to have someone help me, let alone someone so much younger who was then able to do the task with ease. Then I realized, it’s the way the world works.  The techniques that he was using were different than my approach and ultimately, his way worked better for me.

As we age, there are many things that the younger generations can do that we cannot.  I’ve experienced it on the other end of the spectrum too, where someone more senior to me may be resistant to my help or expertise.  It’s human nature to want to do things for ourselves, in the way that we are used to doing them.  However, by doing this and not capitalizing on the skills of others, we are only limiting ourselves.

Benefits of allowing others to teach you

  • Learning new skills to aid in your job or personal life
  • Exposure to new technologies to improve inefficiencies you experience
  • Allowing yourself to be inspired by the “spark” or passion that another person can share when they teach you something

It’s well known in the business world that if you find a mentor who is more senior to you, they can share their experience with you.  This leads to improved skills and knowledge and ultimately to higher level positions or pay increases as you develop.  Lesser appreciated is the reverse, when a younger, less experienced individual shares their knowledge with you, it can also lead to increased skills, revenue or higher level positions.

My point today is open yourself up.  Regardless of age, having teachers and mentors of all ages will help you become a more well-rounded leader.  Do you have people in your life who mentor you?  Does their age or experience level impact your development?  Share about them in the comments.  I’d love to hear some great mentor stories!

How To Have A Successful Working Relationship With Your Boss

One of the first patterns you see when working in human resources and dealing with employee relation situations is that over half of the issues stem from employees not being satisfied with their working relationship with their boss.   Complaints range from dislike of micro-managers to working for someone who is so distant that a relationship never forms.  I’ve found that as I’ve worked with many executives over the last 16 years, one thing stands out…. if there is not a match in style between the leader and the subordinate, ultimately that working relationship will suffer.  Over time, either the employee will become dissatisfied and leave the company, the leader will not be satisfied with the employee and performance will suffer, or both people stay in the relationship and the department never reaches it’s full productivity potential.

While reading an article in Scientific American Mind on Attachment Theory, it struck me that although they were focusing on romantic relationships, the theory plays out in our work relationships as well.  Attachment Theory and the corresponding styles was first discovered by Mary Ainsworth, an American psychologist.  Her work with a British researcher, John Bowlby, resulted in the idea that people who have a strong attachment to others, specifically their caregivers, are more likely to survive.  The three types of attachment are:

  • Secure– This person has a solid base and is able to explore their environment.  They’re more likely to learn and thrive and are comfortable with intimacy.
  • Anxious–  This person is overly worried about where the other person (ie. parent, romantic partner or boss) is and what they are doing.  By being preoccupied with that, they are not easily able to focus their attention on the situation at hand.
  • Avoidant– This person believes that if they allow a close, trusting relationship to form, they will lose their independence.  They try to minimize closeness in their relationships and keep other people at arms length.

This can have a huge impact in the workplace.

If there is a mis-match of the boss’ attachment style and yours and you do not recognize it, your relationship may never see success. One or both of you will be disappointed in the other person.  This disappointment will cause friction over time if not addressed and eventually, something has to give. Recognizing your own attachment style can help you in your relationships because then you can make adjustments to aid in bridging the gap. According to the article authors, Amir Levine and Rachel S.F.Heller, “attachment principles teach us that most men and women are only as needy as their unmet needs.  When their emotional needs are met, they usually turn their attention outward.  This result is sometimes referred to in the literature as the ‘dependency paradox’: the more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more indpendent and creative they become.”

As we help leaders, or as we review our own leadership style, the message is clear.  We need to help stack the deck by working toward having a more secure and trusting relationship with our boss.  This is where HR can really help an employee focus efforts on strategies to reach that goal instead of focusing on all the problems in the working relationship.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these attachment styles and how you’ve seen relationships play out in the workplace.  What has worked and what hasn’t?


The HR Blog Exchange- Guest Post By Lois Melbourne: Using Your Experience To Mentor Students and Entrepreneurs

This Guest Post authored by Lois Melbourne is part of the HR Blog Exchange, a fun project that from a Twitter conversation.  See the details here.

Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the Greatest HR Circus in the world.  Trish is a good ring leader and has invited me as a guest act.  I appreciate the opportunity to be in the ring with a little spotlight.  I want to move the big tent spotlight to the easy ways you can use your expertise to make a big difference in people’s life.  I am fortunate to have the experience of being mentored and of mentoring.  I enjoy both.  I mentor students and entrepreneurs because I am paying it forward for all the wonderful mentors I have had and still have in my life.  We don’t do it to find applicants, but it can obviously be a reward for giving back to the community. I also focus on these in details in my 1-1  mentoring opportunities.

In ring #1, we address the issues most pertinent to students preparing for the job market. The following list includes the type of information students have asked me about:

  • How do I know a corporation is looking for employees?
  • How is the application process different for corporate jobs than when applying for a retail or grocery store position?
  • What key words are critical in a resume and why?
  • What is the role of a recruiting firm vs. a recruiting department in a company?  How do I talk to them?

In ring #2, recognize and reinforce the critical topics that may seem obvious to you, but are still new or unknown to students, such as:

  • Knowing and nurturing good interview skills.
  • What NOT to do, such as over inflating a resume.
  • Knowing that recruiter firms should never charge an applicant.

In the center ring I focus on something I am very passionate about:

  • How to choose an industry/career that you can enjoy.

My mentoring allows me to do these things regularly, but I realize not everyone can do them all. The important thing is to do what you can, knowing that you are contributing to the workforce of tomorrow – paying it forward, if you will.  Some may consider looking for the first career position a trapeze act.  But with your expert guidance, at least these students will feel that they have something to hold on to.

Lois is a ringleader of her own circus with a blog at, writing about HR technology in workforce planning and succession planning, as well as leadership, cool employees and her software customers.