Use Your Influence for Good! A #WISHRM21 Interview with Michelle Yanahan

“We have a responsibility to influence the people in our lives to be the best possible people they can be: ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up’ (1 Thess. 5: 11).” – Henry Cloud & John Townsend from How to Have That Difficult Conversation

Influence. It seems to be the word of the decade. Hundreds of articles and books have been written about it. Podcasts dedicate hours discussing how to gain it. And people spend thousands of hours on social media trying to convince people they have it!

Much like the traditional concept of a “leader,” many assume “influencers” have to be at the top of an organization, or someone with a lot of social media followers. Not exactly true, says

Michelle Yanahan, Principal and Owner of ChangeFit 360. Michelle believes that true influencers are actually on the frontlines of organizations, not in the C-Suite. Yes, C-Suite members do exhibit influence, or how else would they have gotten where they did, but those that hold the true impact on how successful an organization is can be found in the trenches with the clients, customers, bulk of the employees!

Michelle will be presenting Use Your Influence for Good! at Wisconsin State SHRM Conference 2021. Her work will help leaders identify influencers and raise their skills to change

Behavior throughout the organization. Michelle is a passionate organizational change management strategist with 18+ years’ experience in leadership roles executing programs that grow change management as a strategic business competency.

I was truly excited to interview her, learn more about her work, and discover what makes her tick! She can be reached on LinkedIn if you want to know more!

  1. The term “influencer” has a lot of meanings depending on whom you ask. How do you define “influencer” and who are these folks in an organization?

An influencer is an individual who people look to that they want to follow and are uniquely connected within the organization. Influencers are rarely those who are high on an organizational chart. Often times, these people live in the white space of the organization, are not identified, and the potential for their organizational influence goes untapped.

2. What are the key skills an influencer needs to be impactful at an organization?

It’s interesting that many of the same characteristics that define social influencers also apply to organizational influence such as being likeable, engaging, authentic, and visible.

In addition to the social influencer characteristics, organizational influencers must meet their professional commitments, role model the right behaviors while walking the talk; work collaboratively; actively listen and communicate; embody trustworthiness; and be empathetic to people.

3. Your session will discuss influence vs. authority. What is the key difference, and (without giving away the session theme!) why is influence needed for truly impactful authority?

According to Ken Blanchard, the key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.   If you consider role modeling, a key characteristic of influence, those with authority are role models by default either positive or negative. Self-selected role models, it turns out, often have more influence those with authority.

4. One of my key mantras in life is “doing the right thing.” How does one truly know what the right thing is so they can do good?

Doing the right thing aligns with your personal values and feels right in your gut. Always trust your gut.

5. How do you identify an influencer at your organization, and how does the organization build them up for success?

There are some sophisticated ways to identify influencers such as using engagement surveys, culture assessments, and/or organizational network analysis software tools; but these are all costly and time consuming. In my session I reveal some simple and practical ways to identify the most common types of influencers and position them for success.

6. In a world full of influencers, whom would you pick out as the top three we should be following and learning from?

This is a tough question as I think the answer is unique to each individual. Where do your interests lie, who do you connect with, who inspires you, who intrigues you? Personally, I follow influencers in my field of organizational change as well as positive psychology and human behavior studies.

7. Lightning round! Time for some extra fun!

Where is the most unique place you’ve visited? Roatan, Honduras where my husband and I got to play with spider monkeys. Any place where I get to interact with animals is on my list!

What is your favorite holiday? Christmas as part of our family celebration always includes some unique games with prizes!

What is your favorite movie? An old classic, Gone with the Wind. I grew up watching it with my mother who has now passed on.

If you could have “walk-up” music any time you entered a room, what would that song be?

This is a tough one as I am really into music and hard to narrow down to just one genre, let alone a song.  Probably something 80’s new wave.

What is your drink of choice? A good rich Italian cup of coffee.

HR is Professional Wrestling

“If you smell what the Rock is cooking…” – Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson

For the first time in at least fifteen years, I LOVE professional wrestling. I mean, for the first time in years, I have a deep seeded PASSION for professional wrestling. I am not a TV person, but I cannot wait for Wednesday nights to watch All Elite Wrestling’s (AEW) Dynamite broadcast.

Now, hear me out…

I’ve had an on again off again love of wrestling since I was a little Hulkamaniac saying my prayers and taking my vitamins, brother! The 1980s was where the love was born! Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, Andre the Giant… these men were titans, heroes, villains, and everything in between. They captured my imagination, and helped me master the elbow drop so I could perform it on my little brothers.

Then, I sorta fell out of it for whatever reason in the early 90s. Call it whatever you want, but I just got into other things. Then… the Monday Night Wars started! A battle between World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, known now as WWE) for wrestling supremacy. Competition made everything amazing! Eventually, this ushered in what became known as WWE’s “Attitude Era.” The best time in wrestling history. I worshiped the Rock, Mick Foley, the Undertaker, D-Generation X, and of course, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Legends, all of them.

It is because of the Attitude Era that me, my brothers, and our friends had the cops called on us while we were doing backyard wrestling at my mom’s house. The neighbors thought it was a gang fight. C’est la vie!

WWE beat everyone – eventually bought WCW, as well as other competition, and the product got, in wrestling terms, stale. Actually, worse than stale. It’s been unwatchable for me, and many others, with a few exceptions, like the “Yes Movement” almost a decade ago – the rise of the “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson!

And that leads me to now. AEW, which was founded two years ago to be direct competition with WWE, is doing everything right, in terms of promotion, marketing, booking, and all the things that make professional wrestling amazing. Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, the Young Bucks, Bryan Danielson (who jumped ship), the return of CM Punk, and SO many other amazing talented wrestlers helped me rediscover that impressionable boy and excited teenager inside me. Wrestling, once again, brings me joy!

And I like to think about things that bring me joy! Weirdly, I make connections to seemingly unconnectable things.

Jack Hunter, a political commentator and giant wrestling fanatic, calls “all politics professional wrestling.” In his opinion, it’s all a show – a “work,” meaning a deception or a fraud, a plot meant to deceive or manipulate an audience in order to elicit a desired response. He even goes so far as to say “Everything is wrestling.”

Now whether you buy that or not, I was inspired by that comment from him. It made me wonder in what ways is HR like professional wrestling? Well… in my experience, here’s some examples based on the lingo of the business!

Baby face – A wrestler who is the good guy, a hero booked to be cheered by fans. Often called a “face.”

This is what every HR professional strives to be – at least the good ones. We want respect, adoration, a seat at the table! However, this is not always in our control! When Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson first made his wrestling debut, he was booked as a “face.” However, the fans hated it! They booed him when he was supposed to be cheered. He owned it, though, and became an amazing “heel” – one of the best in wrestling history. (More on heel in a minute). HR, own your lot in life. Don’t worry about being the face. Just do what needs to be done, do the right thing to the bst of your capabilities, and don’t worry about the rest. It’s not in your control!

Bump – To fall on the mat or ground. To “take a bump” in pro wrestling means to get hit and get taken down.

In HR we take bumps what seems like daily! Like a GREAT wrestling match, there are ebbs and flows. There’s a beautiful art to it – a dance that tells a great story! In HR, there may be times where we get wins, only to be followed by a chair shot to the skull! “What do you mean she came to work sick!? Has she been watching the news the past year and a half?!?!” Sigh, time to put all our other priorities on hold to do the proper contact tracing, etc. The good thing about taking bumps? They prepare you for the world, and keep you sharp and on edge. Take 7 bumps means you get up 8 times… unless the last bump got you pinned. Don’t get pinned! Kick out! Get up!

Dark match – A non-televised match at a televised show. A dark match before the show is often used to test new talent or warm up the crowd.

Oh, this is too perfect! How much work is done BEHIND the scenes that few see? Processing payroll, negotiations with vendors, confidential FMLA/ADA talks… so many others. Employees don’t see these aspects, but see the results! A paycheck deposited (or not due to them changing bank info in the middle of a payroll process – that’s a no no!), higher premiums that could have been much higher, or an employee who “gets away with not coming to work.” All these thankless jobs eventually help everyone, in theory, get promoted to the “televised matches.” Only caution is, remember it’s hotter under bright lights…”

Heel – A wrestler who is villainous, who is booked to be booed by fans.

HR gets a lot of “heat” (negative reactions, such as booing, from fans). “HR told me to do it!” That phrase irks me like none other! It is a MASSIVE cop out when supposed leaders say “HR said…” This false logic completely absolves them of their responsibility and makes the profession look like the heel! In the words of Dean Ambrose, “Noooooope!!!” HR advises your options. You chose. OWN YOUR CHOICES, MANAGERS. Sorry… I was about to venture into heel territory there for a moment… back on track! 😊

Jobber – A wrestler who routinely loses in order to build the credibility of other wrestlers.

This is one of my favorite wrestling terms! HR unfortunately can be a jobber – see heel. However, unlike professional wrestling, which is scripted, the real world is not! Do not let others “job” you. Stand up for yourself, professionally and appropriately. Challenge others when they’re wrong. If you’re going to “take heat,” it may as well be on your terms, right? Jobbers get pushed around for the benefit of others. That can only happen if YOU allow it to happen.

Kayfabe – The presentation of professional wrestling as being entirely legitimate or unscripted.

Prior to the mid-1980s, this was universally maintained across all wrestling territories and promotions. Now-a-days of course, most people above seven years old understand that the Undertaker is not truly from Death Valley and doesn’t “hate” his brother Kane. However, “breaking kayfabe” is essentially, “breaking character,” or breaking the act. It’d be as if Iron Man suddenly began acting like Robert Downey Jr. and not Tony Stark.

Does HR have kayfabe? Does the profession have a wall it puts up to maintain an image that isn’t true? I’m not sure! I think all professionals put up walls of some kind. I can speak only from first hand experience, but there are times I do not want to act positive and happy. I want to scream and bitch and just tell someone off. However, I work hard to “maintain kayfabe” if for no other reason to maintain what I feel is leadership.

Mark – A wrestling fan who enthusiastically believes or behaves as though they believe professional wrestling is not staged, or loses sight of the staged nature of the business while supporting their favorite wrestlers.

This term has its origins in the “carnival” beginnings of wrestling. A “mark” was someone that could be easily taken advantage of and conned. Personally, I love “marking out,” meaning totally getting into the show and becoming completely enthralled! It’s such an energy rush and dopamine shot. This is the same feeling I get when I totally get into a project at work, go to a conference to network, or begin learning new HR trends and analytics. I mark out at HR! This is such a great release, which helps overcome the challenging times!

Pop – A cheer or positive reaction from the crowd.

Pops can be great right! Cheers and adoration are wonderful things. We want recognition. It’s human nature. However, when we want a “pop” from others, we give them power over us? When we look to others to make us feel some sort of way, that diminishes our own internal worth over the long haul. It is much better to leave how you feel to yourself – that way, no one has power over your emotions, reactions, and most importantly, responses. Pops from outside sources fuel the ego, which is your enemy. Pops from inside fuel your soul, which is your friend.

Stable – A team of three or more wrestlers, who generally share common motives, allies and adversaries within a storyline (or through multiple storylines) and are often presented as having the same or very similar gimmicks.

The greatest stable of all time is the #HRCommunity. I have worked in other professional industries, and not one of them holds a candle to the love, friendship, and interconnectedness that the HR Community holds for one another. Find others in our profession. Connect with them. Form friendships. HR is hard. Being alone is HR is harder and completely avoidable and unnecessary! Join a local HR professional chapter/association. Get on Twitter and LinkedIn to connect with others. Like the nWo of the late WCW era, anyone can join the HR Community!

Work – Anything planned to happen. Part of the script.

It’s a lie that wrestling is “fake.” You take a bump off a six-foot ladder and tell me it’s fake. No, wrestling is “scripted.” It’s a show. It’s an art form that is part athleticism, part choreography. So, when someone says “it’s a work” it’s part of the act. I think what leads to the downfall of many potentially great HR professionals is a lack of foresight, a lack of strategic “working.” Many times, professionals make moves that don’t make sense or are not strategic, thus making a “shoot” (when a wrestler or personality deliberately goes off-script, either by making candid comments or remarks during an interview, breaking kayfabe, or legitimately attacking an opponent). Don’t shoot! Incorporate a “work” into your style – be strategic, think ahead, maintain your composure. Remember that all moves are interconnected, so we need to maintain the flow, the dance.

Paul, Where Have You Been?

“Sometimes, even to live is an act of courage.” – Seneca

I haven’t written a blog post in a while. I hope you can forgive me. I’ve been going through a lot of personal and professional obstacles lately. Not all obstacles are bad – in fact – many are signs from the Universe that point us in the direction we need to head.

But we all have our limits. I just have not had the energy or drive to write lately. I mean, I want to, but just haven’t figured out how to overcome my writers funk malaise.

Tied to a lot of this has been the untimely death of my younger brother. It’s hit the family hard. We’ll be OK. Everyone eventually is, but when? Just keep swimming…

However, I did want to announce several big developments that have been exciting me. I hope that by sharing these things, it helps reinvigorate me to some degree and give me a kick in the behind to continue writing… it’s what I like to do, and I think I am fairly good at it!

So, what has Paul been up to??? Here are some BIG announcements from my incredibly teeny tiny barely there corner of the universe!

Real Talk and Big Ideas Series – September 14, 2021

As a nonprofit professional my entire career, I’ve been a friend of Northern Illinois University’s Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies for many years now. The Center prepares future nonprofit leaders by giving them the real-world skills and knowledge to balance their academic theory. On September 14th, I will be discussing Human Resources in the nonprofit sector during the lunch hour. My hope is to provide students with some great advice and real-world scenarios they can take with them on their journeys! This is a free virtual event being held via Zoom and is open to all. Register for this free virtual event here: http://go.niu.edu/mv2i8v

Philosopher Manager Series

This is one I’m so very excited to announce! It’s been a labor of love for a long time now. I am partnering with the DeKalb County Nonprofit Partnership, a program within the DeKalb County Community Foundation, to present the Philosopher Manager series!!! Influenced by Plato’s Philosopher King, the idea of the Philosopher Manager is one I have been building for almost 15 years. I am incredibly grateful to bring the idea to life in a three-part series with the DCNP!

  1. September 29, 11-noon: Lead by Doing the Right Thing
  2. October 20, 11-noon: Happiness and Wellbeing Is What You Make It
  3. November 10, 11-noon: Communicate Like a Philosopher

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said philosophy is for everyone. It’s about living your best life and acting on what is right. I firmly believe all leaders need philosophy, and most leaders are philosophers without them likely knowing it! Plato felt that the best kings would be philosophers. What if we took this approach to management? The Philosopher Manager would be free from the corruption of power, knowledgeable yet humble, and able to live in accordance to their inner worth, not their status at a company. I am so proud of this series, and hope you can join in! More info and FREE registration here: https://dcnp.org/2021/08/05/the-philosopher-manager-series/

Disrupt HR STL 4.0

I’ve had the honor of presenting at several conferences, but I have never spoken to an HR conference. Well that all changes on September 22nd! I have been given the green light to promote the event, though official announcement is yet to come, but I am speaking at Disrupt HR St. Louis 4.0!!! I will be discussing the power of social media in the profession, and I am incredibly excited. I also must admit. I. Am. TERRIFIED! This event is so radically different from other HR Conferences! If you’re unfamiliar with Disrupt HR, it’s a one-day event where presenters speak fast and furious! 20 slides advancing every 15 seconds. The fact that I am terrified is the signal I needed to know this was something I needed to do. So, if you’re in the greater St. Louis area, I hope you stop by! People can register here

SMILE Team WISHRM

Speaking of HR Conferences…. The Wisconsin State Council SHRM is recently introduced their inaugural Social Media Influencers Leading Engagement program! Modeled after the SHRM National Blogger Team (now known as the Influencers Team), the WI SHRM SMILE Team has been created to provide attendees and potential attendees with social media content to inform, energize, and engage followers to virtually connect with their upcoming State Conference.

Content will include speaker interviews, exhibitor highlights, tips for attendees, and live conference updates.

As an alumni of the SHRM Blogger team, I am excited to be a part of this year’s inaugural WI SHRM “SMILE Team!” The full team also includes two of my best friends Mary Williams, SPHR and Jeff Palkowski, MHRM, SHRM-SCP, PHR!
 
We will begin providing content in the coming weeks leading up to and through the WI SHRM State Conference held both in-person and virtually, October 13-15, 2021.
 
Follow WI SHRM on the following social media platforms:

You can also follow the 2021 WI SHRM SMILE Team on LinkedIn and Twitter at:

Paul LaLonde
-LinkedIn – https://lnkd.in/gKNmYb6t
-Twitter – https://lnkd.in/gw428GCJ

Mary Williams
-LinkedIn – https://lnkd.in/guKjYFZv
-Twitter – https://twitter.com/conmkw

Jeff Palkowski
-LinkedIn – https://lnkd.in/gK8WxvGp
-Twitter – https://lnkd.in/grZqRu-n
 
Follow the conference hashtag: #WISHRM21 on each platform for information about the 2021 WI SHRM State Conference.
 
If you would like to attend the WI SHRM State Conference, please visit: https://lnkd.in/g8TrqzW

Professor LaLonde, Well, kinda…

My first job out of grad school may actually surprise you. It wasn’t in HR, or even as a manager in nonprofits (those both came later). It was actually as an adjunct professor! I graduated during the Great Recession, so jobs in my chosen field were scarce. I needed SOME sort of income, so I reached out to an old friend – a professor of history at my alma mater – Joliet Junior College. He helped me get a position as a part-time adjunct teaching political science. I LOVED it and taught regularly at JJC for the next six years. Thankfully, most of my students liked me, too! Don’t believe me? Look, I’m on “Rate My Professor!”

Unfortunately, a promotion and a move necessitated I give up adjunct teaching. Thankfully, a job switch and another move meant I could get back in the game! So, I am happy to announce that after speaking with the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at JJC, I am once again a College Professor (adjunct, that is). I get to teach political science 101, which is something I think many folks need these days… Regardless, I love learning. I love the classroom. It’s the one place I feel 100% at home, and I am excited to return to this part of my life.

People Operations

Finally, I recently announced that CEDA’s HR Department is making the evolutionary shift to People Operations!

It’s made it no secret that I am deeply influenced by Lars Schmidt’s book, Redefining HR: Transforming People Teams to Drive Business Performance.

This book is a masterpiece of HR thought leadership, and I am not being hyperbolic! Schmidt perfectly captures the zeitgeist that is upon the HR community. He uses real world testimonials and scientific data to back up his theories and ideas.

Over the past decade plus, Schmidt argues, there’s been a fundamental shift in what the HR function does. This shift is best described as “Legacy HR” vs. “Modern HR” and can be described as such:

Legacy HR:

  • Elaborate programs with them as gatekeeper of corporate decisions.
  • Needlessly complex processes, forms, policies.
  • Go to HR when you’re in trouble.
  • “That’s the policy.”
  • “You need to file this form before we can process.”

Modern HR:

  • Refocus on the “people.”
  • Common sense programs supporting an environment where employees can do their best work.
  • Go to HR when you need strategic support and guidance – strategic thought partners.
  • Solutions based ideas – get to “yes” unless it’s illegal or stupid.
  • Analytics – DATA driven.

To reflect this change, many organizations have been rebranding HR. In many instances, the move has coincided with an overall more strategic push towards people centered organizations/departments.

Why are organizations doing this? The HR stereotype is that this function is for hiring and firing, getting payment and rewards information, and enforcing rules and policies. The name “human resources” gives the impression that people are resources to be harvested as a tool for production. Employees feel expendable, just another worker in a long line of cogs on the company conveyor belt.

The name “People Operations” is very meaningful to me, and I did not recommend this change lightly for CEDA. People Ops showcases that our PEOPLE at the Agency are a priority. I’ve made it a point for the People team to focus less on compliance and more on the overall employee experience, so that each person can realize and maximize their own potential. Without our folks, our mission will never be fulfilled at CEDA!

This isn’t just an idea or fancy words – CEDA is striving to mean it, and I’ve tried backing that up, as has my entire team! HR is part of the work; People Ops is the approach to the work. I am very excited to be a change agent for good in the HR field! Thank you Lars, and so many other though leaders from whom I have been deeply influenced. Without the Steve Brownes, Laurie Ruttimans, Jennifer McClures, and so many more, the HR field would be stagnant and unmoving.

So, that’s what I have been up to that has kept me from blogging… well, at least some of the things! Hopefully, I find my way from the fog in my mind to write more often. Either way, you know where to find me if you just want to say hi!

The Time That Is Given to Us: A Eulogy

My brother Mark’s riding boots and trademark “fancy hat.”

The following is a eulogy I wrote and read for my brother’s wake on July 8, 2021. I had no intent on publishing this; however, the response had been overwhelming, and many people asked me for a copy. I felt it must have been more powerful that I intended. So, I felt if it meant that much to people, then it’s a sign from the Universe to share it. I hope it continues to hep people wherever they are in life.

In JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, there was a beautiful scene in which a conversation takes place between Gandalf the Gray and Frodo the Hobbit. Frodo was entrusted with the One Ring of Power, the source of all evil in Middle Earth, and tasked with destroying it by casting it into Mount Doom. This was far more than a dangerous journey. It was likely near impossible for ordinary men, much less a Hobbit. In the scene Fordo lamented to Gandalf that the task came to him. He grieved that all the chaos and destruction was happening around him.

Frodo said: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

To which Gandalf replied: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

“The time that is given to us.” I thought about that scene a lot this week. How many things happen in our lives that we wish do not happen? I feel as Gandalf does. Thinking about what should have happened, what could have happened is a waste, for all we have is the here and the now, and we decide what to do with that here and now. And the time that is given to us is short by any standards.

Mark Duane LaLonde was born on March 30, 1988. 33 years was the time that was given to him. Brief for some, long for others, but those 33 years were Mark’s, and he used every minute of his time here.

The third of four brothers, one of the earliest memories I have of Mark is forged in the crucible of what made Millennials so durable… the latchkey. Our mom, a new single mother trying to figure out our new reality, didn’t have many options for childcare. So, I found myself the man of the house often watching after three younger brothers who did not so much as pretend, I had an ounce of authority.

One day, the brothers were being particularly randy. I don’t recall exactly what Mark did, but I had reached my limit. I found a yard stick and with all 36 inches, I wound it up like Barry Bonds freshly injected with the latest BALCO substance and WHACK! I gave him some much-needed corporal punishment.

I’m not saying that was the best response, but needless to say from that day forward, my brothers gave me very little problems. I remember our mom coming home from Dominick’s (remember those?), and she was amazed at such a clean house and all the boys sitting on the floor behaving!

She didn’t find out about the yard stick until several years ago when Mark ratted me out. She tried scolding me, but couldn’t argue with the results.

Throughout history, the number four holds much symbolic meaning. Almost from prehistoric times, the number four was employed to signify what was solid, what could be touched and felt. Its relationship to the cross (four points) made it an outstanding symbol of wholeness and universality, a symbol which drew all to itself.

In the Bible,

  • Ezekiel has a vision of four living creatures: a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle.
  • The four Matriarchs (foremothers) of Judaism are Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel.
  • The four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. (Christianity)
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In philosophy, mathematics, and science,

  • Four basic parts of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.
  • Greek classical elements (fire, air, water, earth).
  • The four cardinal virtues: Justice, courage, moderation, and wisdom.
  • Four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter.
  • Four cardinal directions: north, south, east, west.

More modern examples,

  • The Big Four heavy metal thrash bands: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax.
  • And probably, the most important foursome of all – The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo.

The number four has long been important in the LaLonde household because there were four boys, four sons, four grandsons. Paul, Peter, Mark, and Duane – apparently by the fourth one, all the Biblical names were taken.

As the oldest of the four sons, there are barely any memories in my mind of a time when there were not four of us. I am sure none of us remembers a time without the others.

Now, all new memories will be incomplete. Like a baseball game rained out, or a painting that was never finished.

Memories – that’s all that we have left of Mark, yet, those are the most important possessions we can hold on to.

While it’s tragic to think about Mark leaving us, he left behind a lifetime of memories that we can celebrate. Mark was always ready for a fun day with family and friends – a lover of music, he would have been the one showing up today with the perfect playlist for the event.

He’d probably suggest we throw on some Led Zeppelin so he could air guitar the solo from Stairway to Heaven. He’d then want us to play Metallica so he could jam to Master of Puppets. But he’d also likely want to hear some Elvis and Sinatra because Mark was an old soul.

Incredibly calculated and thoughtful, Mark would find you the perfect gift and then likely pay for it in cash counted out in exact change including the penny he just picked up on the curb as he walked inside the store. I’d often jest that he was so cheap that his wallet was a bank bag with the money sign on it. He once said he was thinking about getting a pool. I asked if it was for his money so he could dive into it like Scrooge McDuck.

But I cannot really joke about that because he did purchase a house when he was 22. When I was 22 I was probably passed out in some random cornfield in college. I think he was a little more mature than I was at that age. Mark embodied the timeless virtues of respect, politeness, and deference. He was a man of God and tried to live his life as devoutly as he could. He carried a Bible with him, and his handshake was textbook right down to the firm grip and eye contact. He made sure to represent the values our parents and grandparents instilled in us – and he didn’t let them down.

Mark was a busy body. He wasn’t content unless he was on the move. This is likely one of the reasons he didn’t have cable – not because he had all the streaming services, but because he didn’t watch TV! And he was too cheap to pay for it. He’d much rather be playing his guitar, working on a woodwork project in the garage, or riding his Harley to Sturgis.

Remember in Forest Gump when the titular character ran from coast to coast? That was Mark, only on his motorcycle – wearing his trademark bandana, leather boots, and leather Harley vest our dad gave him because, in our dad’s words, it mysteriously “shrank.”

Even though my brother was several years younger than me, I always wanted to include Mark in my adventures with friends. We went paintballing together at our grandparent’s farm. I gave him a welt on the back of his head, and he returned the favor with a shot so precise that it ensured I couldn’t walk straight for a few hours. I’ll leave it up to your imaginations as to where that shot landed. We turned our mom’s backyard into a huge WWE wrestling ring complete with ladders, steel chairs, and cooking sheets from her kitchen. One time during a makeshift WrestleMania, the neighbors thought there was a gang fight in our backyard, and police surrounded us from all sides – not making that up. I’m not sure which gangs use pizza pans and ladders, but either way, the police laughed at us and let us off with a warning.

Even though we did so many different activities together, some of my fondest memories are of all the times we went to concerts together.

As big time metalheads, we’d thrash around in the mosh pits and bang our heads to some wicked riffs. He always had more hair than me, and his stamina was always so much better than mine – it was as if the concert veteran was him showing ME how it was done, not the other way around. A friend recently remarked to me that he was in always in awe of this barely five-foot maniac running around in the mosh pit with endless energy, holding his own where lesser men dare to tread.

How do you distill a lifetime of memories and experiences into a 15-minute eulogy?

You don’t. You just do the best you can to let others know what you saw in someone, and maybe, while reminiscing, they are reminded about what they saw in them, too.

Mark was more than a friend. He was a son, a grandson, a brother, and an uncle. We were bonded by blood – four brothers all sharing a sacred relationship, and it cannot be explained, only felt by those who lived it.

But now, that once solid number of four is shattered – forever altered by the untimely passing of a family pillar. Three brothers doesn’t sound the same, and I can’t imagine what life is going to be like without Mark sending us funny Arnold Schwarzenegger memes in a group text. Never again will we hear his Arnold impressions, his motorcycle approaching down the street, or his belly laugh when he tells a lame uncle joke.

Western culture doesn’t talk enough about death. It’s something many of us avoid discussing, thinking about. We’d rather be doing anything but contemplating the shortness of life, or ensuring we are using our time to the fullest.

In Stoic philosophical tradition, there is a Latin phrase memento mori – remember that you will die. It’s not meant to be morbid, or pessimistic. It’s a phrase of deep meaning and positivity.

It’s easy to see death as this event that lies off in the distant future. Even those of us who choose not to live in denial of our mortality can be guilty of this. We think of dying as something that happens to us. It’s stationary date we’re moving towards, slowly or quickly, depending on our age and health.

Seneca, the Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher, felt that this was the wrong way to think about death, that it was a mistaken view that enabled many bad habits and wasted living. Instead, Seneca said, death was a process—it was happening to us right now. We are dying every day, he said. Right now, time is passing that you will never get back. That time, Seneca said, belongs to death.

This is the power of memento mori. For it is death that gives life meaning. Because one day we will not be here, and many of our days have already come and gone, we should do all that is within our power to make this moment count for all its worth. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not promised. All we have is the time that is given to us. So, let’s live there, and focus on that.

This is how Mark lived when he was riding his Harley. This is how Mark lived when he was strumming his guitar or banging the drums. This is how Mark lived when he was working on his lawn or his home renovations or his woodworking. This is how Mark lived when he was with his family and friends.

Mark focused on the time that was given to him. This will be the most cherished lesson that he taught me. I just wish I paid attention to it prior to him being gone.

Our mom always told us boys that “family is forever.” She did so as a way of instilling a deep-rooted connection between her sons, the four brothers. On one hand she got it partially wrong. Nothing is forever. Life is fragile, ephemeral. However, she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams, as the four brothers will remain four – even if one is no longer with us. We remain bonded, strong through a love that extends parallels and plains. Right now, I feel Mark presence – mostly because I am hearing a faint Arnold Schwarzenegger voice yelling at me to “Come on, get to the finish! Do it! Do it now!” He may be gone physically, but he remains metaphysically. So long as his memory stays alive, he is alive.

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.” – H.P. Lovecraft

“…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Black Rebels

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Fredrick Douglass

I have a rebellious streak in me at times. I don’t like to suffer fools. If something isn’t right, I have a very hard time going with it quietly. This streak has gotten me in trouble here and there. I’ve always hoped it was “good trouble.”

Rebellion shouldn’t only be cast in the terms of violence. Rebels stand against the status quo. They refuse to accept “what is” because of dishonesty, injustice, or evil norms. One of the greatest and simplest acts of rebellion can be to smile when the world tells you to frown.

Rebels inspire me. It’s likely why I enjoy the anti-hero. Batman has always been more interesting than Superman. It’s likely why I love heavy metal music – thrash in particular with its raw emotion, sonic tempos, and harsh lyrics – often attacking societal norms. Rebels don’t fit neatly into any space or box or label. I think it’s something I try to aspire to.

More importantly, however, rebels educate me. They get me to think differently. I learn new things, facts, stories.

Few folks have been more rebellious in American history than Black Americans. On the fringes of society since day one, I’m not sure it could have turned out any other way, frankly.

Though, I’m not here to write anything about Juneteenth, or anything else about the Black experience. People far more qualified than me have already done so if one hits the Google search.

No, I am here to share some quotes from powerful Black rebels. Each of these individuals has in some way leant their powerful words to our society in an effort to illicit change – powerful change.

I wanted to keep this short and simple. Please research history. True American history has escaped Americans for too long. For instance, I remarked with a friend recently that neither of us knew that in Tennessee the slaves were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation because its capital city of Nashville was under Union control in early 1862. The Proclamation, issued in January 1863, freed slaves in states under active rebellion against the United States. Tennessee was not considered such.

Both of us were history majors in college and have a stark interest in the Civil War. It’s criminal we didn’t know this, but it’s better late than never.

There’s more to this story of course, like the influence of then Union loyalist Senator (and Union imposed Governor of Tennessee) Andrew Johnson, as well as the fact that there were still legal slaves in New Jersey in the 1860s. But that’s the point…. We’ve failed to learn. What good is history if we don’t? It’s just facts to win points on Jeopardy!

Read. Read. Read. Read. Please, read. Read anything and everything. Remain intellectually curious.

It’s what these Black rebels did (and do). They are rebels because they’ve succeeded in a society that often times told them they cannot succeed – or put barriers in their way to ensure they don’t succeed.

Successful rebels pull triumph from the jaws of indifference, or worse, forced intolerance. These folks inspire me, educate me – and I hope others do the same for you as well.

  • “Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.” – Nat Turner
  • “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass
  • “If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.” – Sojourner Truth
  • “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.” – George Washington Carver
  • “You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” – Malcom X
  • “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Baldwin
  • “Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” – Maya Angelou

  • “Drag says ‘I’m a shapeshifter, I do whatever the hell I want at any given time’.” – RuPaul
    • “The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what — not who — we are.” ― Ibram X. Kendi
    • “We need to be on the front lines of our own issues.” ― Minda Harts

    Americans at Work: The God That We Worship

    “When you don’t have much and you need to be at work, there’s no such thing as being sick.” – Scott Brooks

    I hate masks. There I said it. I hate wearing them. They’re uncomfortable, hot, fog up my glasses, and they mess up my beard! They suck.

    I am not, however, an anti-masker. I wore it through the entire pandemic (and continue doing so when required). It’s the right thing to do. Wearing them not only helps battle COVID, but it also shows empathy and concern for others. Wearing a mask also had some unintended positive consequences.

    The BEST positive consequence? I hadn’t had a cold in over a year and a half! It was glorious! That all ended about a week and a half ago. I felt the all too familiar feelings slowly emerge – tickle in my throat, tiredness, and cotton in my ears.

    Then it hit, like a ton of bricks! The Common Cold was back with a vengeance like vintage 1970s Ahnold at the gym.

    Years ago, I probably would have gone to work sick. It’s as American as Apple Pie, no? In fact, it was reported in December of 2019 (the month COVID-19 emerged in our collective Zeitgeist) that 90% of Americans go to work sick! Yet, I decided this time I needed to put my money where my mouth was because since COVID-19 altered our world, I had preached to anyone who’d listen that people needed to STAY HOME when they were ill. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, so I called into work sick!*

    *Note: I work for an “essential service” employer, so many of our employees never worked remote, or worked remote in a hybrid situation. I felt it important that I also went to work as a show of support.

    So, while I called into work, I wasn’t happy about it. And I was fighting the urge to check emails, do some work at home, and answer calls – despite my energy being low, my throat and lungs being on fire, and my head pounding.

    I asked myself why???? WHY???? No one was missing me. My boss was legitimately fine with me being home (and was leaving me alone). My staff were leaving me be to recoup. So, why was I feeling horrible about missing work?

    I think this is something many Americans go through. It’s deeply American to go to work even when sick.

    But why is this? One reason, I feel, is a belief that work is holy. This belief is deeply rooted in American culture. The Puritan (or Protestant) Work Ethic – the concept that labor, diligence, discipline, and frugality connect one to God – is alive and well. American Puritans believed that hard work showed God you were dedicated to Him and espoused your faith well. This has been passed on through the American consciousness ever since the Puritans arrived in the New World.

    I want to make it clear that having a strong work ethic is not the issue. Hard work absolutely can produce a moral benefit and strengthen one’s character and individual abilities. The issue is treating work as if it were a deity.

    Last time I checked, Billy Corrigan told me cleanliness was godliness, not working oneself to death. And what isn’t cleanliness? Working while sick. Sick is literally the opposite of cleanliness!

    Work can be a virtue, but so can be leisure. A healthy person needs both. Aristotle, one of history’s greatest philosophers, agreed. It might be surprising to you, but he actually argued that focusing too much on work makes people worse human beings! He wrote in his Politics:

    “But at present we are studying the best constitution, and this is the constitution under which the state would be most happy, and it has been stated before that happiness cannot be forthcoming without virtue; it is therefore clear from these considerations that in the most nobly constituted state, and the one that possesses men that are absolutely just, not merely just relatively to the principle that is the basis of the constitution, the citizens must not live a mechanic or a mercantile life (for such a life is ignoble and inimical to virtue), nor yet must those who are to be citizens in the best state be tillers of the soil (for leisure is needed both for the development of virtue and for active participation in politics.)”

    Essentially, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Work is important but it’s not the be all end all. If we focus only on work, then we cannot partake in our essential duties, such as participating in the political system and leisure! YES! Leisure is important! Taking time for YOU and YOURS is more important to Aristotle than work!

    This may be all well and good, but I want to return to the quote that started off this post.

    “When you don’t have much and you need to be at work, there’s no such thing as being sick.” – Scott Brooks

    Yes, America has a deeply rooted cultural attachment to working. Work is God. However, I feel equally important to this discussion is the opinion that America has historically valued the work, not the worker. America has historically valued capital over labor – so much so that Haymarket and Pullman are etched into our collective memories.  

    Again, I want to make a point. I am not pro-labor at the expense of business. Capital needs labor, and labor needs capital. They are Yingying. However, when one is out of balance or valued more than the other, nature is out of whack and both suffer. And American (and Americans) have valued the end result of work more than the person behind it for far too long.

    How do I know? Look at our policies. Look at our actions.

    • Ample paid sick leave is a pipe dream for many workers;
    • The USA is the only industrialized nation without a paid parental leave laws;
    • Conjecturally, I’ve heard many stories of employees still showing up to work with COVID symptoms when told to stay home (related to the absence of paid sick leave and managers pressuring them to come to work);
    • Also conjecturally, and it’s happened to me countless times, job candidates tell an interviewer “I never call in sick” to show how employers can depend on them are as an employee;
    • Leaders praise those who “burn the midnight oil” or work 50/60 hour weeks – “they’re so dedicated!;”
    • Americans refuse to take earned vacation time, letting it go to waste!

    Want to know what people value? Look to their behaviors and decisions. Period. Americans overvalue work to the point of self-ruin.

    America needs a Fifth Great Awakening. We need to ditch the God of Work, and embrace a balanced approach as taught by Aristotle. This isn’t something that will or can happen overnight. Hell, I’m a believer in a balanced approach, and I was pained for having to call into work when I was literally in pain!!! The only way this can happen is for leaders to advocate.

    Leaders need to advocate for PTO and then be OK when their staff use that PTO – or better yet, ENCOURAGE your staff to use it! Leaders need to advocate for wellness and self-care policies. And leaders need to model the behavior. Don’t work until midnight and then question why your staff were working so late themselves!

    While this is the humane, empathetic thing to do, it is also good for business, and employee development.

    “Well-being is closely linked with health and productivity. Research shows that employees who are in good physical, mental, and emotional health are more likely to deliver optimal performance in the workplace than employees who are not.”

    Ultimately, calling in sick was tough, but I did it. And I am happy to report I only checked email until 9:00 a.m. I answered a few high priority items, and then realized… I was the priority. I turned off the work laptop. I put my work cell out of reach. And I took a nap. It felt great.

    My Great Awakening has begun… and I plan on modeling this behavior no matter how difficult it feels to me. Advocating for the American worker to have access to wellness and health is no small thing.

    The Power of Mantras

    Meditating human in lotus pose. Yoga illustration. Colorful 9 chakras and aura glow. Mandala background.

    “What we think, we become.” – Buddha

    It’s likely you’ve heard the word “mantra” before, but have you ever given the time to think about what a mantra is, what it truly is?

    I’m a HUGE language nerd. I am so enthralled with the history of words and where they come from – entomology, or the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

    The word “mantra” has its roots in ancient Sanskrit, an Indo-European language that is to India what Latin is to much of Europe.

    The history of the word mantra, at least according to Wikipedia, is derived from the root man- “to think.” Literally translated is means “instrument of thought.” Another translation and it means “sacred utterance.”

    And while there is some debate on the exact meaning of the word, the dictionary defines it as “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation,” and/or “a statement or slogan repeated frequently.”

    Regardless of the word’s origin, there’s something special about a mantra – it calls one to sit and take notice, to pay attention, because a phrase or word has something to teach us.

    And the science can back that up! In an article titled The Science Behind Finding Your Mantra and How to Practice It Daily, states:

    “Neuroscientists, equipped with advanced brain-imaging tools, are beginning to quantify and confirm some of the health benefits of this ancient practice, such as its ability to help free your mind of background chatter and calm your nervous system. In one study recently published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, researchers from Linköping University, in Sweden, measured activity in a region of the brain called the default mode network—the area that’s active during self-reflection and mind wandering—to determine how practicing mantra meditation affects the brain. From a mental health perspective, an overactive default mode network can mean that the brain is distracted—not calmed or centered.”

    This spoke to me.

    Mantras have helped play a huge part in my life personally. As someone who has been working through various mental health challenges, mantras are a reminder to center oneself. They remind one to focus on the only thing that matters, the here and the now – the only time and place that truly exists. There is no past. There is no future. There is only the present.

    Over the past several years, I’ve taken a philosophical approach to my work, in case you couldn’t tell by the name of the blog, and mantras have been a huge part of this for me. Being a professional of any kind is hard work. Being an HR professional (especially over the past year and a half) has been crushing to many.

    I wanted to share mantras that have helped guide me, remind me, center me, and challenge me. My hope is that you have your mantas that do the same. If so, please share them! A simple phrase or word can help someone through the most confusing of messes. Who knows that better than you!? So, here are the top mantras that have helped me through the fog.

    The Stoic Mantras:

    • The obstacle is the way.

    The phrase that changed my entire life. It teaches you the only way to overcome your problems is to face them, to go through them, to use them as your advantage rather than as your downfall. Obstacles teach us lessons, and until you learn that lesson by embracing the obstacle, it won’t go away.

    • Memento mori.

    Latin for “remember you will die.” It’s not to be taken as a gloomy warning, but as an encouraging thought! Our lives are short, so don’t waste time. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back, so use what you have every single day. Do what needs to be done before it’s over.

    • Ego is the enemy.

    The one thing that will keep us from obtaining true peace and happiness is that little voice inside us that says “you deserve more,” “you are more important than this,” and “you deserve to be comfortable.” Truly, ego is the beast that many cannot tame and has brought down giants. Concur your innate tendencies to think you’re more important than you are, or else you won’t get to where you want to be.

    The Eastern Mantras:

    • Be water.

    I wrote an entire post about why this phrase is so important.

    • No mud, no lotus.

    Thich Naht Hanh is one of my favorite philosophers to read. His ability to take complex Buddhist traditions and turn them into simple, beautiful prose has helped millions. The simple phrase means without the gross disgusting mud, a beautiful lotus flower cannot bloom. Without challenges, you will not grow or develop.

    The Yoda Mantras:

    • You must unlearn what you have learned.

    Yoda is the wisest Muppet this side of Degobah. I have learned much from him. By this mantra, what he is teaching us is similar to an old Buddhist story. A Zen master fills her student’s cup with water until it overflows causing the student to exclaim in surprise. The master tells the student, I cannot fill your cup when it is full. Like the mind, a cup must be empty to be filled. Don’t hold too fast to beliefs. They cause one’s cup to runneth over.

    • Do, or do not. There is no try.

    Harder said than done, but essential to grow, to learn, to become a better version of oneself.

    • Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

    This one it tied to ego. Fear, anger, hate all come from ego. These emotions all come from us wanting something to be different than what is. Sometimes, what is is unavoidable. Sometimes what is is changeable. It’s not passive acceptance, but an acknowledgement that some things are outside our control. Focus on what is in our control to build the world that we all deserve. In the end, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

    The Daily Grind Mantras:

    • There is no movement without friction.

    A scientific fact, objects require friction to move. So why do we complain when presented with situations that cause us friction? To move forward requires heat. So, if you can’t stand it, then call Isaac Newton, or Albert Einstein, or Sheldon Cooper. Prepare yourself for the friction if you want to make progress.

    One of my favorite lyrics from one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. It’s a constant reminder that mental health is to be taken seriously. Work can wait. It will always be there. Your health cannot, nor is it guaranteed to be there. The philosophy behind this statement can also be applied to anything. “This too shall pass.” The good. The bad. The ugly. Nothing is permanent. Enjoy the moment.

    What are some of your mantras? What helps you get through your days, weeks, months, years? I’d love if you shared.

    The Tao of HR

    “He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures. To live in the Tao, do your job, then let go.” – Lao Tzu, from Tao Te Ching

    One of my favorite blog pieces was a discussion on how HR can be like Winnie the Pooh. The main concepts and ideas were inspired by the book The Tao of Pooh.

    Taoism (sometimes spelled Daoism) is a philosophical tradition from China. Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (translated as “the Way”), which is the source of everything that exists. The main focus is to seek betterment by becoming one with the Tao, or “unplanned rhythms of the universe,” the spontaneousness of life.

    As with all philosophies, the teachings differ depending on the teacher or the school, but overall, Taoism generally stresses “wu wei” (action without intention). Attempting to control the universe results in chaos, so allow the natural order to flow forth through non-action. Other key elements of Taoism include simple living in harmony with nature, cultivating self-knowledge, and the Three Treasures: Compassion, frugality, and humility.

    Many in the West will recognize the Yin Yang, which isn’t “opposite” in the Western sense of being contradictory. The Yin and the Yang are opposites of the same, meaning, one cannot exist without the other. There is no light without darkness. There is no happiness without sadness. There is no masculine without feminine. There is not payroll without HR! The Yin Yang is important to Taoist philosophy, (though not exclusive to it).

    Ying and Yang

    While this blog post is not about Taoism in particular, this background is info helps set some context.

    There is a passage in The Tao of Pooh that was particularly striking to me. The author discusses a “desiccated scholar.” The book describes a desiccated scholar as “one who studies Knowledge for the sake of Knowledge, and who keeps what he learns to himself or to his own small group, writing pompous and pretentious papers that no one else can understand, rather than working for the enlightenment of others.”

    I admit, when I first read that passage, I needed to look up what the word desiccated meant! According to the dictionary, “desiccated” literally means “having had all moisture removed; dried out.”

    Without water, nothing grows. Being dry and baron means death. No water, no life. Dry, stuffy, unfriendly, unapproachable, beyond reproach.

    In the context of Human Resources, I thought, what would this mean? To me, a Desiccated HR is what Lars Schmidt calls Legacy HR – centralized bureaucrats, gatekeeper mentalities, cultivators of complex policies and mechanisms no one can understand, refusal to adapt, grow, or alter perspective.

    “It’s what we’ve always done!”

    “I can’t approve that move until you sign this form!”

    “According to the policy…” (HR practitioner proceeds to read the policy word for word to the employee)

    Desiccated HR is the stereotype image that plagues our profession. It is the opposite of what I discuss in my post HR, Be Water. No one likes this HR professional. This HR pro sucks all the life and happiness out of the room – much like a desert sucks the water out of the air.

    Taoism teaches, in part, that if something hampers life or happiness, then those institutions should be reduced or abolished. Things must be kept simple. There is no need for grand bureaucracy.

    I am not suggesting HR be abolished, except maybe Legacy HR. Contrary! I advocate that HR needs to be ENHANCED! HR pros need to evolve to a place where we don’t feel we’re as self-important as Legacy HR pretends we are.

    This is about letting go of control. It’s about building systems that can function without us. It’s not about abdicating responsibility or ownership. It’s about building systems for people, not for HR.

    Build systems with policies and rules that can be easily understood! The true genius of a leader is being able to get the hell out of people’s way! It’s not building infrastructure that can only function when HR is pulling all the strings. True leadership is about building a system that functions without you. This is a true HR legacy. It takes an egoless person to do this, but the best leaders kill their ego, or at least put it to rest.

    As Lao Tzu, the traditional founder of Taoism, said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

    “But,” some may be saying, “I am too important not to be involved! I need to be there to make sure it’s going right!”

    No, sorry. You’re not that important. No one is. That’s ego talking. Marcus Aurelius wrote that “everything has always been the same, and keeps recurring….” Marriage, childbirth, sickness, death, war, holidays, traffic, agriculture, flatterers, enemies, pridefulness, plotting, newsmongers, lovers, misers, greed, power brokers… all of it has happened since the dawn of time, and all of it will continue until humans cease being human or the sun expands and swallows the earth.

    This includes work! The HR department existed prior to us, and it will exist after us. Focus on making it better, not on controlling it to retain power! Control is about ego. Remember that trying to control what happens has the opposite effect. The more we try to control, the more we fail to control. “Everything that happens,” Marcus Aurelius wrote, “happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so… Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What’s closer to nature’s heart?”

    So, embrace change. Embrace building a system that doesn’t need us to function. Build one that helps provide power back to the employees – one focused on the Taoist tradition of compassion, prudence, and humility. Build a system that helps lift others up, not yourself.

    The ironic thing about that. When we lift up others, we also become lifted. Thus is the Tao.

    HR, Be Water

    “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” – Lao Tzu

    Ever since I was a little kid, I have had a fascination with water. I would fantasize about visiting the ocean to witness the experience – watch the waves, listen to them crashing on the sand, smell and taste the salty sea air, and feel the breeze on my face. I always wanted to just sit on the beach and bear witness to one of nature’s more beautiful experiences.

    Rivers, streams, lakes, oceans, ponds, puddles, rain… all of it fascinates me. I’ve thought much as to why this element so intrigued me, but only recently did I discover why.

    A few weeks ago, I lamented that I only recently discovered the philosophical brilliance of Bruce Lee.

    Many may not realize, but Bruce Lee was more than an iconic martial artist and action film star. He was also an accomplished and profund philosophers. Overshadowed by the Dragon persona, his philosophy is overlooked by the mainstream despite it being central to him becoming the Dragon. Without Bruce Lee’s philosophy, his mastery of martial arts would have been nothing.

    Lee was a warrior, and as importantly, he was a philosopher. Particularly striking to me was this interview:

    “Empty your mind.

    Be formless, shapeless, like water.

    You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.

    You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.

    You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

    Now water can flow, or it can crash.

    Be water, my friend.”

    This poetry – based on ancient Chinese Taoist philosophy – is the balance I needed to hear. It’s the Yin and the Yang I was looking for. I recall in high school science classes that water flows from a higher concentration to a lower concentration and few things can stop water whether it’s a slow trickle or a heavy flow. Water is adaptable. It flows wherever it is supposed to flow in exactly the way it was meant to flow.

    This wisdom from Bruce Lee was my own epiphany into why I’ve always had an attraction to water. The universe was trying to tell me something. For much of my early adult life, I was rigid and inflexible. If something was out of place in my life or didn’t go exactly according to plan, I would get anxious or crumble. I’d sulk and become intolerable.

    The universe was trying to tell me to be like water. Be flexible, soft, graceful. Be yielding. Be understanding. Flow or crash depending on what is needed. Adapt or die.

    The universe is complicated. Nature is complex, probably far more so than our minds can comprehend. So, too, are our lives, since we are part of nature and not separate. How do people cope with this complexity that we do not understand? We form boxes, categories. We then put ideas and thoughts into these superficial spaces, which is limiting and constricting. It’s a great coping mechanism for hunter-gathers trying to survive on the ice fields of Eurasia; but humans have long since moved past our primitive surroundings, and it’s time our thought patterns move along with it. The sabretooth cat isn’t going to jump out and eat us anymore. Let go of the notion that there’s something scary hiding behind the bush.

    Dear HR professionals, be like water, my friends.

    Much like nature, work life is incredibly complicated. I won’t waste words by rehashing the stats and stories here, but a quick Google search, and most will see what I mean. HR work is destructive to those unwilling to bend. It was lonely, isolating work prior to the COVID pandemic. Now, many good folks are being crushed under the uncompromising weight of a microbe.

    As the world of work is ever-changing, and workplaces are more complex than our minds can comprehend, a more helpful approach to work life is one that is flexible or adaptable. One that enables us to flow along. You know… kinda like water.

    Depending on its environmental constructs, water changes. When it’s cold, water becomes ice to fit the situation. When it’s hot, water evaporates to fill that need. When it’s in a glass, it becomes the glass, as the Dragon so eloquently spoke. And so on. Water doesn’t resist. It just keeps being water regardless of what comes its way.

    What does this mean for the HR professional?

    It means learning to be adaptive and flexible to the environment around us. Do not cling to your views on or approaches to the HR profession. Be open to receiving new information about old ways of doing things. Changing one’s mind is not weakness. Much like a river redirecting itself after an earthquake, water finds a new path to tread so that it can continue to reach the ocean.

    It also means learning to listen to the environment around us and being non-judgmental about it. I want to be ice. Well, it’s 72 degrees outside, so I need to be water. I will move forward as needed. I’d rather be doing my monthly professional development with my team, but I’m needed on this investigation right now. It’s not fun, but it’s where I need to flow!

    Being water means going to new places without hesitation. Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching, “That which offers no resistance, overcomes the hardest substances. That which offers no resistance can enter where there is no space.” It’s been written about and discussed hundreds, if not thousands, of times. HR needs to be a TRUE unabashed leader in the DEI+ Belonging space. HR needs to challenge racism and bigotry head on. HR needs to back up employees when they have legitimate grievances. Yet, many in the HR profession don’t do these things. Why? Water doesn’t refuse to go where it has to. It goes wherever it is needed however it can. HR needs to be able to find the space to go where there is seemingly no space.

    Bruce Lee said “empty your cup so that it may be filled.” Or as Yoda told Luke Skywalker, “No. No different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.”

    If one remains rigid and unbending, they will eventually break.

    Be water, my HR friends.

    Street Level Influencer – Meet Shenise Cook

    Shenise Cook is a DYNAMIC person, professional, and an all around badass! Get to know her, and then go connect with her!

    The Street Level Influencer continues into 2021. Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

    Street level influencers provide that for us.

    COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from seemingly all over. These things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

    When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

    So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

    1. Kirk Hamsher
    2. Kristy Freewalt
    3. Sue Oswalt
    4. Okie Smith
    5. John Newton
    6. Olga Piehler
    7. Blake Quinlan
    8. James Woods
    9. Anthony Eaton
    10. Jane Murtaugh
    11. Rhonda Owens
    12. Dan Huber

    This next individual I spoke with is incredibly awesome. I had followed Shenise on social media for a while, but I was inspired to reach out to her after seeing a Tweet from Claire Petrie:

    I was in a little rut, and Claire’s Tweet came at the perfect time. COVID was starting to finally take its toll on me. Continued work pressures, family turmoil, and societal problems – all that came ahead one year into the pandemic, social injustice, and societal instability. I was feeling it, like so many others.

    After seeing Claire’s tweet, however, I thought, I need to talk to Shenise – that smile from Claire is too awesome, meaning Providence is telling me that Shenise is someone I need to chat with.

    So, I reached out to her, and she graciously said “let’s do it!” We set up a Zoom chat, and after a few reschedules, we connected. It was such an amazing conversation. Shenise’s energy is infectious. I felt such a vibe from her, that I wanted to spread it to the HR Community and beyond!

    I cannot thank Shenise enough. She likely doesn’t know what that conversation meant to me. To connect with someone so real, uninhibited, positive – it reenergized me. She is a sweet person, who deserves all the great things that come her way!

    So, without further ado, here is Shenise’s story!

    1. So, you’re a well experienced HR pro! Why do you do HR?

    Despite sometimes thankless roles and efforts, HR combines some things that I innately enjoy – people, business, efficiency, and evolution.  As a teenager, I did not know exactly what I would do, but I knew it would be business. And before it was common phrasing, I knew nothing worked without people.  And yet most important for me is that I enjoy supporting people in being their best selves. In HR, it allows me to work in that space. Whether I am helping leaders figure out their workforce and succession plans for better strategic alignment, assisting an employee with a career development path, discussing sometimes overlooked/forgotten benefits options, or providing system updates/integrations to make work easier, I like to see people succeed.

    2. Currently, you are in career transition. What are you looking for in your next role? How will you know the next role is right for you? 

    First, let me highlight that I am blessed to have worked in a variety of areas within HR. I point that out because there are a few directions that I would enjoy taking, so I won’t narrow it to a title. What’s important to me regardless of the role is the ability to use a variety of my skills (talent management, organizational development, etc.), as well as working in partnership. How will I know? Do we ever really know? What I hope is that there will be good communication, a team-orientation, alignment and partnership between HR and leadership across the organization, and an aim towards work-life balance. All of this must be accompanied by a culture that believes in and invests in its people as a measure of success.

    3. A lot of what you just discuss hit home. Along those lines, how would you define being a “good HR leader?”

    In my humble opinion, a good HR leader understands the need to function in multiple roles. Sometimes you direct, other times you mediate, and sometimes you coach. There are others, but this is a short interview [smile]. Good HR leaders also attempt to learn their business. We often follow best practices, but the applicability, implementation, impact can be so varied. What is done at a software company may not be a good fit in banking. And what is done in a global product company may not work for a service company serving a small city. Then there’s agility.  Anyone that has worked in HR knows that no two days are exactly the same. So the ability to somehow pivot and maintain focus in sometimes a matter of hours is critical.  None of this is really important, unless its someone with integrity, that communicates, values people, supports opportunity, and allows some grace, so that people want to follow.

    4. Agility and applicability are such overlooked words at times, or people use them and don’t apply (pun intended). So glad you brought that up! HR is a challenging profession, in that, we likely get too much blame and not enough credit when things go wrong or well, respectively. Have you had a particular story that you’re comfortable sharing to describe how you overcame a challenging situation?

    I’ve done payroll, change management and been responsible for various approvals…I have tons of stories (laugh).  My experience in general is that most reasonable people are less upset when they are informed. “Ma’am, I understand you’re upset, unfortunately, you did not get paid because we have not received any paperwork to know you’re working.”  “Sir, we do not think you are racist.  We are committed to creating equal opportunities for employment so we will need to advertise in some additional places, which may take more time.”  “Yes, this is an additional item on your already full plate.  I know that your success is important and this is a way to make sure we gather your input on behalf of your department.  I’d be happy to provide some suggestions or act a sounding board so that you can work through it most efficiently.”  When people are upset, I always remember its not really about me, I am transparent as the opportunity allows, and I offer what I can to make sure they know they are not alone.

    5. Great point about not taking things personal. People’s behaviors are more often than not about them and not about you or me. As a Black woman in the HR profession, what do you feel HR professionals can do better to promote BIPOC professionals in the workplace?

    First, let me say that I am not a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) expert.  What I can say is that no component of the trifecta has true long-term positive impact without the other.  As HR professionals, we have to look at our organizations and identify where the experience and opportunities are different and ask why.  And after digging into the causes ask the questions that find the solutions.  Why aren’t our applicant pools diverse? Why do we only have one minority or veteran or person with a disability in last quarter’s hires?  What do the social activities for onboarding look like?  Are they really professional or do they demonstrate some cultural or socioeconomic preference?  Might they be contrary to someone’s religious beliefs? What assumptions, conversations, resources are there that may impact performance for better or for worse?  When are professionally beneficial collaborations really happening? Who’s there? Who is interacting just before and after meetings? Why? Who is listening? Ultimately, we have to become comfortable with initiating uncomfortable conversations and really delving into why leaders are making decisions that may cause disparate impact.  We have to be proactive in learning about experiences that may be different from ours. Those from underrepresented groups need allies that challenge people to consider them and the value of what they contribute when decision makers are simply relying on what worked last time. And allies in less than diverse populations should seek these opportunities out.  If an organization is genuinely aiming to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive work place, people have to feel comfortable discussing their challenges with us as HR professionals and we have to be courageous enough to highlight things even if the person impeding this progress is a “really a good person.”  This is by no means an all-inclusive list.  It’s the cliff’s notes of the short list. But let’s at least get started and ask for support along the way. 

    6. You ask A LOT of great hard hitting questions all HR professionals must be mindful of. Have you seen progress towards more meaningful inclusion efforts over your career, last several years, last several months? How much further is left to go in your mind for HR professionals to be true advocates for workplace equality?

    Collectively, I do not sense much progress has been made, but I don’t know the numbers. I do know that I’ve talked with HR people that see the challenges, but don’t have leadership that support corrective action. I also know HR people in organizations that are so understaffed that they probably miss things that are not blatantly overt or highlighted by collective complaint. While there are many HR professionals that are proactively making change, there are still so many not empowered.  With that said, I am encouraged when I interact with people such as yourself, that care and push for progress through voice, decision and action.

    7. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and society in America has A LONG way to go. Thank you for being so open and honest. We need that more than ever, and we need to normalize it. On a more lighter note, who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

    I have a variety of people in my network with all types of talents and wisdom. I would say that who readers should know is all about where they are on their professional evolution. So they’re all valuable.

    8. All the more reason to connect with you and see who is in your network! What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

    Oh the challenges will be many. Organizations are navigating (or choosing by inaction) differently, so I think within the near future it will generally be addressing the long-term impacts of the pandemic. The ability to be agile, will definitely determine how quickly organizations can move beyond survival mode. For those in industries that require on-site workers, the next phase of challenge will likely be the implementation and enforcement of safety protocols. In the United States, there were generally some mass restrictions and requirements. But as states remove mandates and vaccinations become available to more individuals, organizations will have to create legally enforceable policies that both protect workers’ safety and freedoms.  Given the varied opinions on the pandemic, vaccinations and liberties, I imagine this will be an arduous task for many. 

    What I will be most interested to see is the how the employment market plays out. Traditionally, we would say, unemployment is high – it’s an employers’ market. But is it really the traditional landscape? Pre-pandemic, it was highlighted that there were jobs that could not be filled by the unemployed because the jobs didn’t match their skillsets. Now, we have both employees and employers that have performed better using remote or hybrid working models. And you have some of those groups that have no intention of returning to the previous model. Then you have those out of necessity, preference, or lack of agility that will be eagerly returning to organizational sites. What happens when the employer path and employee path don’t match? How hard will it be to keep or hire employees to come to site when your employment competitors allow remote work? Or, the reverse if they prefer on-site? One could suggest that employees will make changes based on preference and it will appear as a swap. But that assumes that the jobs and skill set are a similar match. If not, we could potentially see the pre-pandemic challenge exacerbated.  In addition to policy changes, new vacancies, larger candidate pools, and increased competition for top talent, HR should likely prepare for changes to onboarding and training. This is not just for individual contributors, but also for managers who may need more development in managing remote and/or hybrid teams.

    9.  Your answers are so insightful and thoughtful. I appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective. This has been wonderful! How can people connect with you?

    The quickest way to reach me is via Twitter @HRShenise.

    10.  Last question, but, much like Captain America, I could do this all day! What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

    I am dynamic. I really think that all people are, but there are some of us that are more comfortable not fitting into the box. I understand that initially people mentally create “boxes” to classify, to understand what we perceive. But we should never really presume that what we see is all there is or even that our perception is accurate. I can’t tell you how many times people said, “I thought you…”, “Well, I know you…”, or “You’re probably thinking…” and were wrong about me. I question and politely correct, but how often are the assumptions unvoiced? When we engage with people from a space that doesn’t put any of our restrictions on who they should/could be, (of course in my realm they have to be respectful) it allows them to engage authentically. Some of my best friends and most beneficial connections have evolved from this space. A space that allows both of us and our realities to evolve.  And we see that no one really fits the little boxes…and I have no desire to squeeze in.

    That is so incredibly Stoic of you, Shenise! Dear reads, please go and connect with her now! You won’t regret it!