Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Listen to Your Admins

Today is “Administrative Professionals Day” where all across North America, secretaries, admins, and receptionists are recognized for their support. The day of appreciation began in 1952 to not only honor secretaries but to attract women to the profession, at that time one of the few professions women were encouraged to pursue. My mother worked all her life as an administrative professional, finally retiring at age 72. 

How are you showing your appreciation for your administrative staff today? The most common ways are to give flowers, cards, gift certificates, gift baskets, candy or to take them to lunch. The International Association of Administrative Professionals suggests honoring your admins by offering them continuing education, seminars or self-study materials.

Any form of recognition is usually appreciated as long as it is heartfelt and not just an empty gesture that people feel they are obligated to do or they will look bad. But do you know what would really delight your administrative professional and make them feel truly appreciated?

If you do, you may be unique. Most bosses will just automatically get some flowers or one of the items listed “most common” above, and congratulate themselves for remembering. But if you truly want your admin to feel special, find out what would REALLY make them happy. Keep it simple and inexpensive, but make it thoughtful.

What are their hobbies? What do they really love to do? If you give them flowers, what’s their favorite flower? Could you surprise them with a book by their favorite author? Some time off with their family? Your personal attention in selecting the gift can be as valuable as the gift itself.

If you don’t know the recipient’s personal tastes and interests, ask them. In truth, the most appreciated gift is that of you listening, and then acting on what you have heard. Employees in general – actually people in general – don’t feel that they are really listened to. Ask questions, listen well to the answers, and act on what you hear. That can be an ongoing gift of appreciation for all your employees, whether they have their own “Day” or not.

My mother, the lifelong administrative professional, received many gifts of appreciation throughout her career. But the one she most remembers? A handwritten note that detailed the qualities and strengths her boss appreciated about her. It was very personal, and showed that her boss was a thoughtful, insightful observer. And it wasn’t even Secretaries’ Day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This Simple Exercise Can Transform Difficult Relationships

When I have a client with a difficult relationship with a boss or colleague, there is a simple exercise that I ask them to do. It is a transformational exercise that can become a life-changing practice.

It is simply to list the positive aspects of their “difficult person”. This includes anything from “he’s a snappy dresser” to “she held the door open for the person coming in after her”.  At first, my clients are so stuck in seeing only the negative that they have a difficult time with seeing anything positive at all.

In fact, another coach told me a story about a client of hers who was having a difficult time with some tenants. The coach asked her client to tell her some of her renters’ positive qualities. The client protested that there really wasn’t anything positive she could say about these people. The coach persisted, and after a long silence, her client said, “When they exhale, they breathe out carbon dioxide for the plants.”

We really do get stuck in a downward spiral when we only focus on the negative aspects of a person or situation. But once you notice even one positive aspect – even if it’s just that their breath benefits plants – then you start to break free of that negative hold. As you spend more time on positive qualities the spiral will switch directions. And as you move up on this emotional staircase and you leave behind the burdens of negativity, your vision will expand until you see more to focus on than just the parts you don’t like.

This is not to deny the difficult qualities that your boss or colleague may have. You have to learn how to deal with those irritating behaviors and frustrating situations (and a coach can help you with that too). But you can’t change them, only yourself. And why work yourself into a pit of negativity over them?

Take one minute every morning and list out all the positive aspects of your “difficult person”. This will spark you to start looking for the positives throughout the day - maybe even comment on them to that difficult person. If you do this simple exercise, I guarantee your relationship will start changing for the better.

Turning Down The Job
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason at

Just watch till 1.29 seconds; after that it gets a bit raunchy.  Sorry!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Create Time and Space for Meditation at Work

One Tuesday morning after a three day weekend I came into work to find a bouquet of flowers on my desk, and on the desk of everyone in my four-woman events marketing team.

Curious, we looked for cards to see who they were from. We soon discovered they were from the sales department, and were an apology for cancelling the elite event which we had spent days, evenings, and weekends planning. They cancelled it because they could not support the increased sales it would bring.

My three team-mates were incensed. We had dedicated a lot of personal time to creating a perfect event, and invitations had been distributed the week before. We couldn’t believe all our hard work was for nothing - just to have a creation we were proud of erased by another department who could not handle the success it would bring. One of my team members threw her flowers into the trash, accompanied by some choice swear words.

I, however, felt fine about the whole thing. I knew it was a blow, and it seemed like all our time and effort had turned into a thankless farce. But I didn’t experience the tremendous emotions the rest of my colleagues did. We all had just enjoyed three days to ourselves, after a month of working Saturdays in preparation for the marketing event. Why weren’t they as calm as I was?

I had spent my long weekend at a meditation retreat. Three days of meditation left me feeling like this incident was just a piece of flotsam on the vast ocean of my life; indeed of the world. It wasn’t anything to get worked up about; just another minor change of plans. I observed my reactions and the contrast in the reactions of my team mates, and realized the immense value of meditation. They were really upset. I was not upset at all.

Much has been written about the power of meditation to reduce stress. It’s all true. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to meditate every day, much less for an entire 3-day weekend. However, your workplace could make it easier for you to do it, and the benefits for both companies and individuals have been well-documented. Consider:

R.W. (Buck) Montgomery instituted meditation at his chemical manufacturing firm (Montgomery Chemicals, since sold) in 1983, allowing employees to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes at a time. Over the next three years, absenteeism fell by 85%, productivity rose 120%, quality control rose 240%, injuries dropped 70%, sick days fell by 16%, and profit soared 520%, according to Mongomery. "As a result, people enjoyed their work, they were more creative and more productive," he said. "I tell companies,`If you do this, you'll get a return on your investment in one year.’”

Puritan-Bennett Corp., which produces respiratory care and other medical equipment, started a pilot program in 1993 that compared 38 people who meditated to 38 who didn't. At the end of three months, an independent firm reported that those who meditated said they had more energy, were able to handle stress better, had fewer physical complaints and had lower cholesterol levels, said Dr. Mary Martha Stevens, manager of the company's health and wellness program. Their co-workers said those who meditated were easier to get along with. Those who didn't meditate reported no changes.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has a dedicated meditation room where employees can receive regular meditation instruction. “If you have a meditation practice, you can be much more effective in a meeting,'' says Green Mountain Coffee founder Bob Stiller. "Meditation helps develop your abilities to focus better and to accomplish your tasks.'' According to, Green Mountain (GMCR) is one of the notable stocks on the rise. Shares in the company have consistently outperformed others in the same industry.

Among other appointments, William George is the former CEO of Medtronic, a current director at Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil, one of the “Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years”( so named by PBS), and a professor of management science at Harvard University. George started meditating in 1974. During his time as chief executive officer at Medtronic Inc. he encouraged employees to try it and dedicated one of the company's conference rooms as a meditation room.

"Meditation has been integral in my career; it is the single best thing that happened to me in terms of my leadership,'' says George.  "Meditation enables one to focus on what is really important; and I haven't had high blood pressure since the 1970s.'' George is the author of several books including
True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership.

Meditation helps one think more clearly, resulting in better decisions, higher productivity, and increased creativity. The benefits for both individuals and organizations have been consistently recorded since the 1970’s, when meditation began to be more widely practiced in the United States. It makes all kinds of sense for leaders to make it easier for their employees to take advantage of what meditation has to offer.

Back when I was a dedicated twice-a-day meditator and worked for a company, I would retreat to my car for a lunchtime meditation. This was not easy when the weather was very cold, very hot, or there was pressure to socialize. Conference rooms were difficult to reserve for meditation and not conducive to relaxing as I expected interruptions at any time.

Leaders can make it so much less difficult by dedicating a small room as a ‘quiet room’. Providing meditation instructors, recorded guided meditations, and allowing meditation time on the clock, are simple actions that let employees know how much leaders value their mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Because diversity and inclusion are important, a meditation room can easily be used for prayer as well.  However quiet rooms should not be meant primarily as napping rooms. I know that sometimes the need for sleep can overwhelm the meditator but allowing sleep in rooms meant for meditation and prayer dilutes the message and confuses the intent of the space. The results and benefits of focused meditation are different from napping. 

Although meditation in the United States has come primarily from Buddhist and Hindu traditions, it has been secularized to the point that religion does not need to come into the practice. Merely picking a soothing word such as “peace” or “serenity”, and repeating it as a point of focus during a quiet period of twenty minutes is one way to practice and glean the benefits of meditation. When your mind starts wandering, as it will, simply return to repeating your mantra.

There are many meditation techniques so it is wise to just pick one and get started. An instructor can be especially helpful with beginners’ questions. Meditation is a “practice” so practice it daily for a few months.
Get into the habit and notice how it benefits you.

Then create a quiet room in your organization. Make it open to all by naming it something neutral like “The Blue Room” or “Desert Isle”. And reap the benefits of stillness in the midst of chaos.