Category Archives: Leadership

The Appreciation Equation (You might want to sit down. Turns out, it’s exponential.)

Thursday night I got the game ball. It felt so great!  In my dubious athletic career, I never got the game ball.  I have thrown a game ball. I have caught a game ball- once, in the back of the head.  I have dribbled a game ball, shot a game ball, even caught a game ball (once, right in the nose).  As a coach, I have even given the game ball. I have never been given the game ball, until last Thursday night.  I was given it in appreciation of my work which is about as far from athletic as you can get: data analysis, assessment and research.  I felt truly honored to be recognized for my work. Of course, the first thing I did was send a picture of the ball to my husband and daughter who are my biggest cheerleaders.

gameball

My sly cell phone pic of the game ball for my family.

They were so excited for me.  Then I remembered the 14 letters my daughter gave me for my birthday! I remembered that one was entitled “Open when you are a data badass”.  If there was ever a good reason to open that letter, this was it. I could not wait to get home to read it.  Well, I can tell you that I was definitely feeling that letter. Here is what it said (used with permission of the author):

“So, I don’t know when you’ll be reading this, but I can almost guarantee that I’ve already called you and asked you how to use Excel or had some number-y struggle at school.  Not only are you a data badass at work but it turns out you’re a data badass at my university too:). It has always made me laugh and smile the way you get so excited about data at your work.  I hope whatever you did today to be a data badass made you excited, and even made the Superintendent tell you that you’re a Rockstar!  Give me a call and tell me about your data badass-ness today!”

My first thought was “I think my kid might be psychic.”  Then, I just took a moment to soaked that letter  up.  It made me feel very special. She knows I love my work. Clearly, she shares my joy when I come bouncing home with some great story about analyzing data. I have about the nerdiest job that there is, and she gets just as excited as I do, not because she cares about data, because she knows and cares about me. She appreciates me- especially when I help with her “number-y struggles”.

Train your people so well that they could work anywhere.

Treat your people so well that they won’t want to.

-Branson

I started to wonder why appreciation or gratitude can evoke such powerful emotions.  Of course, that led to research. This will not be a surprise to anyone who knows me.  I came upon The Science of Gratitude by Summer Allen (University of California Berkley, May 2018). I learned that I am not the only person wondering how gratitude benefits people, and why both giving and receiving it feels so great.  There is now a field of gratitude research which, though in its infancy, gave Dr. Allen fodder for 72 compelling pages on the subject.  (I should note that there is some debate on the relationship between appreciation and gratitude in the research. I am lumping them together as more research is needed.) In addition to citing studies of improved health outcomes for people who practice gratitude, I was struck by research that suggested “practicing gratitude changes the brain in a way that orients people to feel more rewarded when other people benefit (Summers, p. 17).”  Gratitude begets altruism.  Think about that. Expressing gratitude makes you feel better in and of itself, and it makes you feel even better when you do something that benefits someone else. It is like an avalanche of gratitude.  It’s an exponential equation. I express gratitude. I feel great. I do something nice for someone else as a result. I feel even better, and the person I help feels appreciated. So, they feel gratitude. If they do something nice for someone else, they will feel great! It will be completely out of control. People will be grateful for other people with no expectation of reward, and yet, they will feel rewarded.

Have an attitude of gratitude.

-Hinckley

What if we intentionally practiced gratitude?  What if we intentionally taught our children to practice gratitude?  Practicing the skill of identifying the people and things we are grateful for, and then acting on that gratitude, has lasting positive physical and emotional effects individually and collectively.  I am sure of it. The research backs it up.

I propose an experiment that I am going to call Passing the Game Ball. I would like you to join me in it and then share your experience by leaving a comment.

  1. For one week, make a list every day of at least 5 things you are grateful for.
  2. Each day, express your gratitude directly to one person you come in contact with. Look them in the eye, give them a smile, and say it loud and proud: “You deserve the game ball! Thanks for…..” (Or write a personal note if that is more your style.)
  3. See if expressing gratitude for someone else feels just as great as receiving gratitude.
  4. See if expressing gratitude makes you want to do it more.

I bet we could start an avalanche! I’ll start. I am so grateful for all of the people who read my blog and take the time to share their experiences and perspectives. You have enriched my life.

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2019.

 

Copyright

A Lesson in Leadership

Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of 

their ability to empower others. 

-John Maxwell

 

Leadership is a burden. That is the truth. It is far easier to follow. It is even easier to do nothing at all.  I remember, when I was a little kid, hearing other kids say that they wanted to grow up to be president. I didn’t. Of course, I was a girl born in the 60’s so, as kids they say these days, that wasn’t even a thing.  But even if I had been born male, being president sounded horrible back then. There was a war going on. There was marching in the streets. The evening news was a nightmare in black and white.  Some kids’ dads got drafted. We had to wait in line forever to get gas for our car. There was litter everywhere and, for some reason, I thought the president was even in charge of taking care of that problem.  So why do it at all? Why take a leadership role in anything?  I have pondered this question repeatedly over the course of my life. I have been a school administrator.  I have known mayors, police chiefs, commanding officers, company presidents, non-profit executives, and superintendents.  I believe every one of them would agree that leadership is one of the most rewarding and the most challenging parts of their life.  Bringing together and mobilizing a group of diverse stakeholders to realize a shared vision and carry out a worthy mission is both exhilarating and daunting.  And yet, I think we all should step up and lead when and where we are called. I also believe that every person has the capacity to lead.

 

Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

-Jack Layton

 

A couple months ago, a former student of mine, Erin, told me that she wished she had taken my Leadership class in high school.  While it warmed my heart (and fed my ego) to think that someone thought that they missed out by not taking one of my classes, I had to tell her the truth: “Obviously you didn’t miss anything because you are doing just great.”  And that was the truth. I wish she could see herself through my eyes or the eyes of her family and friends, because then she would know with absolute certainty that she is a powerful leader.  She loves fiercely and gives generously.  She believes in her community, and when she says “we take care of our own”, it is not some trite slogan.  It is a truth she lives.

 

It’s amazing what you can accomplish 

if you don’t care who gets the credit. 

-Harry S. Truman

 

On May 11, Erin had the thinnest glimmer of an idea to help one of her oldest and dearest friends raise the money to achieve her bucket list. She knew that the clock was ticking. She rolled up her sleeves, opened her contacts list and started talking.  Now, had she taken my class 25 years ago, I would have advised her to take a step back. Six weeks is nowhere near enough time to plan, advertise and hold a 5K benefit run especially if you have never put one on before.  To give her the greatest chance of a successful learning experience, I would have tried to manage her expectations for what could be accomplished in such a short time.  But this wasn’t a school assignment that had to be completed in a semester, and I wasn’t her teacher. This was an act of love in a race against the clock, and I am older and wiser than I was when I was a teacher.  So, when she began planning, I put my cautions in check and cheered her on.  And watching her leadership grow was a thing of beauty. Every day brought obstacles – permits, waivers, insurance, banking, advertising, registration, shirts, water stations, volunteers, and safety.  Every little obstacle brought gifts: generous donations from business, volunteers stepping up, classmates coming together and community organizations pitching in. She won’t take any credit for this, and it is not some false humility. Even if she did not learn it in a leadership class, she knows instinctively what the best leaders know:  You do not accomplish anything on your own.  She knows instinctively what the best leaders do: Give credit where credit is due and gratitude to those who step up.

 

If you want something bad enough, you will find a way.  

If you don’t, you will find an excuse. 

-Jim Rohn 

She reminded me of the amazing things that the teenagers accomplished in my class fueled by boundless enthusiasm, and unfettered by the constraints of excessive caution that comes with life experience.  She reminded me that leadership is a skill you can develop at any time in your life given enough passion, purpose, and persistence. Here are the lessons I learned (or relearned) from Erin’s Leadership Class:

  1. Every single person has the capacity to be a leader. Not everyone has the will. When you see the light of leadership ignite, be the one who fans the flames.
  2. If you find your passion and an obstacle, you have a breeding ground for leadership. In the words of Jim Rohn, if you want something bad enough, you will find a way. If you don’t, you will find an excuse.
  3. Bring people together and make them feel like the critical member of the team that they are.
  4. Give credit where credit is due.  In the words of Erin, no one fights alone.
  5. Model gratitude.  You cannot thank people enough. You cannot thank enough people.
  6. Take care of your team. People will work their fingers to the bone for love. They will only comply temporarily out of fear or consequence.
  7. Give people a reason to care. Every person wants to make a difference.
  8. Be a servant leader, not a leader with servants.  Roll up your sleeves and do the hard work alongside your team.  Don’t ask people to do what you are not willing to do.
  9. Ask for help. People want to contribute. In the words of Max Lucado, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
  10. Accept help.  You are going to need it. Everybody does.
  11. When you make a mistake, own it and then make it right.  You need to model what you expect in others: growth mindset, and accountability.
  12. Be clear about your values. As Peter Drucker says, leadership is not just doing things right. It is doing right things.
  13. Every leader has to make the hard decisions.  There will always be someone who does not agree with your decision. Even if someone is angry with your decision, you can sleep well at night as long as you did the right thing.
  14. Have a strong inner compass. You can be flexible and open, and still be very clear about what you stand for and what you will accept.
  15. Know when to push. Know when to pull. Know when to lean. Know when to lift.

Leadership is a burden. That is a fact. But it is a burden worth bearing.  Find your passion, refuse to accept the obstacles, gather up your team, and change somebody’s world. You can do it. Erin did.

DSC_0743.jpg

Leadership in Style
(1/320 sec., f/4, ISO 320, 55 mm)

 

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2019