Change Yourself, Change the World

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” – Chief Seattle

I came across a friend’s social media post that shared the story of a Buddhist monk, who was asked to speak to a senior class about to graduate.

The monk entered the room and didn’t say a word, which caught the attention of the students. He walked to the whiteboard and wrote:

“Everyone wants to save the world, but no one wants to help mom do the dishes.”

The students laughed. But the monk went on to say:

“Statistically, it’s highly unlikely that any of you will ever have the opportunity to run into a burning orphanage and rescue an infant. But, in the smallest gesture of kindness – a warm smile, holding the door for the person behind you, shoveling the driveway of the elderly person next door – you committed an act of immeasurable profundity, because to each of us, our life is our universe.”

Where is our sphere of influence? Where is our greatest opportunity to achieve lasting, meaningful change in the world?

Cosmopolitanism, the notion that all humankind belongs to a single ideal city, the Cosmopolis, is crucial both in many philosophies and, increasingly, in modern politics (or at least it should be).

Marcus Aurelias wrote: “Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.”

This is the Stoic concept of Sympatheia, the idea that “all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other.” In another word, cosmopolitan – the “universal city.”

Therefore, our greatest sphere of influence, our greatest way to achieve lasting change is to change ourselves, to be a model for others to follow. Not out of any selfish egotism, but out of the desire for doing the difficult, for doing the right thing when others will not. Influence your sphere, and they can (hopefully) influence their spheres for an infinite extrapolation until all the connected spheres across the globe are affected.

This is lofty, yes. Is it impossible? We won’t know unless we start. But this is known, we have no greater opportunity to change for good than to start with ourselves.

On this profound American holiday, Martin Luther King Day, we reserve time to honor a rare person who was able to break free and affect change on the world like few can. And he paid the ultimate price when he was murdered for having the courage to do what was right.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy is one of deep misunderstanding. His quotes are often used out of context, misattributed, or used as a way to profess actionless, hollow righteousness. Regardless, what cannot be debated is his overwhelming contribution to the fight for a more just world.

Chances are that you and I will not have an opportunity to change the world so profoundly on his scale. There’s been a lot of great change that has occurred over the past several decades that can be attributed to his and his followers’ efforts. However, not enough change has occurred, nor at the pace a lot of folks deserve. I believe this is in part due to the fact that most people try to change the world rather than focusing on changing their world.

Changing the world is outside of our control. Changing our own world is mostly, if not entirely, within our control.

Human resource professionals have the unique ability to change their workplaces. The workplace is a part of our sphere of influence, and likely one that can affect a greater sphere beyond what we know.

In our efforts to continue King’s work, what can HR professionals do TODAY in the workplace to continue changing their universe? This is a small list, but small lists don’t mean big influence.

  • Hire more Black candidates. Simple, I know… they are there!
  • Relax or destroy dress codes. They’re archaic, not useful (most of the time), and discriminatory (sometimes).
  • Give your power to Black coworkers. If you were supposed to go to a meeting, ask your Black coworker to go on your behalf.
  • Hold folks publicly accountable for their racist behavior. If you see someone tell a racist joke, call them out. Come on! It never should have been acceptable, but in 2022? Please.
  • Speak up in meetings and advocate for Black coworkers. Ask where the Black folks are if there are none. If a policy is detrimental for Black experience, speak up and explain why.
  • Educate the organization on DEI matters. Train, train, train! Not just on buzzwords, but on actual real-world history, outcomes, and solutions.
  • Paid time off for social justice issues. Make it explicit that time off can be spent and is encouraged for volunteering and providing to causes that are important to employees, such as social justice events.
  • Don’t patronize or do things hollowly – do it with purpose and sincerity! Holding Juneteenth celebrations when you have one Black employee, or worse, none? No bueno. Maybe use Juneteenth as an opportunity to conduct further training and development, or have a Committee of Black employees plan events – and allow them to own it!!!

None of this is revolutionary! It’s been written and shared many times over by others more educated than me. Yet, it is THAT simple. This is just a start, but it’s the right thing to do. Some of these things will likely make others uncomfortable. GOOD. Then you know it’s working.

And we can keep this going outside of work by personally,

  • Donating money or time to a Black nonprofit.
  • Shopping at Black owned businesses, often!
  • Inviting your Black neighbors over for a cookout.
  • Sending your Black neighbors the same holiday cards you send other neighbors!

By doing these things, will the entire universe change? Not really, but we will have an immediate impact on the small universe around us. The power to change the world is overestimated. The power to change yourself is underestimated. A thousand small acts of kindness make for a large life full of kindness. Start by helping mom do the dishes, and end by leaving a legacy that inspired others.

Busy

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” – Zen Saying

I’ve been wanting to write for a while now, but I’ve been struggling. Struggling for time, struggling for topics, struggling for motivation. All very human struggles.

I’ve been thinking. A lot of folks have talents that they don’t use often enough. Beautiful talents that showcase to the world exactly who they are in the best possible terms. By sharing our talents with others, the world becomes a little less dim. Whether it is athletic prowess, artistic creations, or the written word – people were born with talents that the world needs to see.

What are yours? What have you been neglecting to share with others, with yourself?

It comes down to a “want” — a want to do what we were born to do. Maybe we don’t share our talents due to laziness. Maybe it’s selfishness. Maybe it’s for a good reason, but can denying a beautiful part of ourselves ever be good? Long into the future, will your older self look back and say “what was I doing with my limited time?”

Over 2021 I set out on an experiment to see if I could meditate every day. Could I carve out time every day to meditate? Why did I want to do this?

January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021

For one, 2020 was an incredibly challenging year. I don’t think I need to go into why. I wanted to work on getting at “stillness.” Ryan Holiday wrote that “stillness is the key,” and I felt that stillness was something I had not been good at for a long time.

Stillness is an inner peace, clear thinking, management of emotions, good habits. All this leads to an acknowledgement, a gentle acceptance, and happiness. Stillness is achieved when the mind, body, and soul become aligned towards the same ends. Being present, choosing virtue, and acting bravely.

So, I carved out time every day to sit in stillness in an attempt to obtain stillness.

What did this teach me? A lot of lessons. But the most important was that time is what we make it. There are 24 hours in the day, and we choose exactly what we want to do with each hour.

“Busy” is an excuse, and a lousy one at that.

If you’re “busy” you’re wasting most of your time. Take an opportunity to chart out what it is you want to do; know exactly what and when you should do it. This way you won’t be so “busy” all the time.

Meditation taught me that being “too busy” is just an excuse. It’s putting off tomorrow what you don’t want to do today – but tomorrow never comes. Putting anything off when it can be and should be done now is a lack of discipline.

Mike Tyson once said that without discipline we’re nobody. He went on to say that “discipline is doing what you hate to do, but doing it like you love it.”

“Business” is hollowness – an expression of discipline where no discipline exists. The world will not slow its spin for anyone. We need to find the time, and if necessary, we make the time by prioritizing what we value. Learning to love what we hate.

Taking small moments of every day to sit in stillness turned into a large moment. It helped me understand that when I decide I am too busy for writing, I am wasting a talent. I am wasting opportunities to be who I am, to share myself with myself, and others.

Why else are we here, other than to be ourselves. Don’t waste time by being too busy.

A Year in Review: My Favorite 7 HR Philosopher Blog Posts

“I will keep constant watch over myself and — most usefully — will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil — that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past.” — Seneca,

The last few years have instilled many lessons on humanity. Probably far too many to count. However, I choose to find the ones that are meaningful to me. One of the key lessons I have learned is resilience. I have learned to understand that we have been here before, and we will be here again. So, keep on swimming. That’s all we can really do.

The other lesson I learned, and continue to learn every day, is one of gratitude. I am grateful for a great many things. One of which is those who take their limited time here on earth to read my blog posts. THANK YOU. I truly mean that. THANK YOU for reading, sharing, commenting, adding to the conversation – all of it. I write for myself, but at the end of the day, I am truly grateful that others find value in my thoughts and words.

So, I wanted to take an opportunity to reshare my 7 favorite blog posts in 2021. Why seven? Why not? Seemed like a good number. There are seven days in the week. There were Seven Sages of Ancient Greece. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? Whatever!

Again, thank you all for the support in 2021. It was a truly blessed year for the HR Philosopher Blog, and I hope to continue the conversation well beyond! IN no particular order, my favorite blog posts of 2021 were:

Post 1: Panel Preview: Why Discuss The Obstacle Is the Way?

Original Date: February 7, 2021

Why I like: The book The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday has influenced MANY lives including my good friends Olga Piehler, Erich Kurschat, and Carlos Escobar. The four of us put on a free panel discussion to discuss the book and its implications on professional and personal life. The panel was a smashing success that attracted over 100 registered participants! I wrote this blog post to help promote and discuss “the why” behind the panel.

Favorite Line: “Philosophy is about becoming a better person, not just a smarter one. Studying wisdom is an action. Philosophers take words from pages and put them into practice in their daily lives for the goal of changing oneself – and by extension, the world – for the better.”

Post 2: Black History Lessons: Why HR Needs to Study the Past

Original Date: February 20, 2021

Why I like: I have always been an amateur historian. I studied it when I was a little kid. I studied it intently in high school, and I went on to major in History in undergrad school. I am also someone who likes to dig into what I am reading and studying. Unfortunately, many American history courses and shows brush over the more unsavory aspects of our history. I wrote this piece as a tribute to Black Americans, whose history is one of deep pain and injustice – yet perseverance, triumph, and honor. I wanted to bring forth some of the aspects most White Americans don’t know, forgot, or willfully subvert.

Favorite Line: “What does this have to do with HR? Everything. The latest trend in HR is to recognize (finally?) that HR is people work. Workplaces are a direct reflection of society. They mirror one another. That’s why it’s so important to see posts about Black doctors, Black inventors, Black CEOs, and Black superheroes. For our entire history, Americans have been taught that Blacks couldn’t be any of those things! HR can be the voice in the room that helps push workplace systems towards equity and belonging. HR is an ally that can push cultural and policy initiatives to allow structures for Black success – not to be a reason for their success because many Blacks don’t need that help, per say. They just need what everyone else needs – structural support. HR needs to fight to create the workplace structures necessary for success, ensure that all have access to those structures, and then get out of the way. Many Black professionals have succeeded in the past and present despite overwhelming systemic roadblocks. HR has a sacred duty to help remove those roadblocks and move aside.”

Post 3: HR, Be Water

Original Date: April 11, 2021

Why I like: This one is not only one of my favorite from 2021, this is one of my favorite pieces I have ever written. It combines my love of Eastern philosophy, especially the ones espoused by badass Kungfu philosopher Bruce Lee. To be in HR is to be flexible. If you’re not, you’re doing it wrong!

Favorite Line: “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.”

Post 4: The Tao of HR

Original Date: April 18, 2021

Why I like: This piece was a sequel/continuation of a piece I wrote called The Vinegar Tasters, Pooh Bear, and HR. It is also a continuation of my exploring Eastern philosophies and how they can affect HR practitioners. This piece is particularly special as I was awarded an MVP Award from Human Resources Today in the Workplace Wellness Category! I am humbled that this piece got such prestigious recognition. I wrote it as a way to remind myself to be healthy I must “let it go.” Knowing others received that message, too, means a lot.

Favorite Line: “This is about letting go of control. It’s about building systems that can function without (HR folks). It’s not about abdicating responsibility or ownership. It’s about building systems for people, not for HR.”

Post 5: The Time That Is Given to Us: A Eulogy

Original Date: July 9, 2021

Why I like: I don’t like this one. My brother passed away a few days before publishing. It’s the only reason I wrote it. I wish I didn’t write it, but I did. I just hope it helps bring peace to someone else who was going through the pain of loss that my family felt.

Favorite Line: “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.”

Post 6: HR is Professional Wrestling

Original Date: September 17, 2021

Why I like: I grew up on professional wrestling. I love the theater, the art, the gymnastics. It’s brilliant and beautiful when done well! All things in life are wrestling, in some way, HR included. So, I took some wrestling terminology and applied it to the profession that I work hard to master!

Favorite Line: “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.’”

Post 7: Future Ready HR! A #WISHRM21 Interview with THE Jennifer McClure!!!

Original Date: October 10, 2021

Why I like: One of my heroes is Jennifer McClure. There is an old saying that states one should never meet their heroes – lest they be disappointed. That does NOT hold true with Jennifer. I have met her on several occasions, even being so lucky as to dine with her (and the awesome Laurie Ruttiman!!!) in St. Louis. Jennifer is gracious, humble, accommodating, and generous! I had the immense privilege of interviewing her for the Wisconsin State SHRM Conference this past October. Her answers were thoughtful, enlightening, and snarky. All the things that make her wonderful! This was certainly a highlight of the year for me.

Favorite Line: “Great HR leaders really understand that their role is to ensure that their organization has the people that it needs, with the skills they must have to deliver upon strategic objectives. That requires creativity, innovation, and a willingness to think differently, because the world is always changing. “Legacy HR” was always about maintaining something, or keeping things the same. That’s never going to be a path forward, or to great impact!” – Jennifer McClure

The Cardinal Virtues: A Source of Inspiration for the New Year

Heaven can never be reached because we are flawed, yet virtues can help us live less flawed each day.

“Virtue is a wealth, and all other good things that a man can have come from virtue.” — Socrates

This is one of last blog posts for 2021. I don’t think I wrote as much as I could have, but it’s been a busy year! How many of us truly get to do all the things we set out to do?

And that’s the point of this reflection.

Every day of our lives, we are faced with choices. Without always realizing it, everything you do is a choice – even the “autopilot” things like getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth (hopefully), driving to work, shifting lanes, yelling at the idiot who cut you off, hitting the elevator button, and so on.

It really became a game changer when I realized this. I once wrote in a journal passage to myself:

You are always making decisions. It is best to be present for them.

So, this brings me back to the business of life! Of course, there is so much to do and only so much time in which to do it. Tempus fugit. How do we decide what makes sense and when?

I previously wrote about how our own personal mission, vision, and values help lead us through a hard life.

But what was the basis for deciding what I valued? How did I come up with my own mission, vision, and values? What is the foundation of value?

I argue it is virtue – behavior showing high moral standards. In the ancient world this was areté, or “moral excellence!” It is expressing oneself in the highest standards at all times so one can close the gap between what we are capable of and what we are actually doing. In modern terms, it is being the best version of yourself!

Especially important are the Cardinal Virtues. First identified by Plato in his Republic, the Cardinal virtues are Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Moderation. All other virtues stem from these four. Later adopted by major philosophical schools like Stoicism, and heavily influencing major world religions like Christianity and Islam, the Cardinal Virtues are the foundation of all decisions worth making.

I think the Virtues are needed today more than ever in our splintered world. Humanity can be so much better. And we are better! We just need more of us to step up and remind one another why that is – look past the falseness of invisible walls and hyperbolic platitudes. Our behavior should be influenced by our better angels. The Virtues can be the angels sitting on our shoulder reminding us of what is good, what is worth supporting, how to treat our fellow humanity.

When we fall short, and we will, we mustn’t condemn. Remember that Heaven can never be reached because we are flawed, but we should give spaciousness to be flawed yet resilient in trying to be less flawed every day.

The Cardinal virtues, also, have particular application to our professional lives. The Cardinal Virtues can help guide HR professionals (and any professional!) towards clarity and strength and confidence.

 Let’s dig a little deeper. The four virtues explained are:

1. Wisdom, which is the ability to discern the appropriate course of action to be taken in a given situation at the appropriate time.

Wisdom is a form of enlightenment. It is taking what you learn and putting it to good use because what good is learning if you keep it to yourself like a desiccated scholar. The Daily Stoic writes: Wisdom is harnessing what the philosophy teaches then wielding it in the real world. As Seneca put it, “Works not words.”

HR Implication: Walk the walk. Don’t talk the talk. Don’t discuss how well you treat employees. Prove it by building a benefits package that showcases your values. Don’t discuss how much you invest in employees. Build a learning and development program that proves you want leaders for today. Take every opportunity to put into use all you learn that which is good. Kindness, empathy, good will, opportunity – all these things can stem from wisdom. Open the mind to let it out into the world for others.

2. Justice, which is fairness, righteousness.

Marcus Aurelius wrote that justice was the most important virtue. Cicero, who wasn’t a Stoic as the Emperor was, also believed this. Both believed in the phrase summum bonum, or “the highest good.” What is good for the whole is good for the part. This is strongly connected to the idea of sympatheia – the belief that we are all connected to one another and woven together through a mutual interdependence (sometimes not quite seen). The idea of “cosmopolitan” is a Stoic idea – we are citizens of the world. Therefore, we must act in the highest possible way to ensure we arrive at a just and righteous manner for the benefit of all. Suffering anywhere is a threat to wellbeing everywhere. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

HR Implication: Don’t let that “anywhere” be you. What good is being wise if a you crafted a compensation program that results in women receiving less for doing the same work? What good is creating a magnificent talent acquisition program if you are not attracting and hiring Black job seekers? Everything done in our space MUST result in justice, or else it is a threat to everyone. Those who “benefit” from unjust systems do not in the end benefit. Whether one believes in karma, or an DOJ investigation, eventually, all get outed.

3. Courage, which is the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.

Almost all fights require the ability to act despite fear, but true courage goes above and beyond fighting fear out of self-interest. Is it courageous to fight for a cause if you make personal gain? Maybe. Or, is it more courageous to fight for a cause in which you will likely take a personal loss? As Ryan Holiday writes: Courage to face misfortune. Courage to face death. Courage to risk yourself for the sake of your fellow man. Courage to hold to your principles, even when others get away with or are rewarded for disregarding theirs. Courage to speak your mind and insist on truth.

HR Implication: There is a lot of courageous work that HR practitioners can do and should do every day. Investigate the “whispers” of a high performing department that may be allowing bullying. Looking into the data to see if the organization is paying equitably, and bringing the data forth if it proves the organization isn’t. Standing up for a Black female colleague, who keeps being talked over by a male counterpart. These things are not easy, and doing them may lead to some negative results for you. If that’s the case, remember, that is true courage at the end of the day. Your courage gives someone else a chance. Because if not you and not now then who and when?

4. Moderation, which is the practice of self-control.

Ryan Holiday has a beautifully poetic way to describe moderation. Moderation is the knowledge that abundance comes from having what is essential. I love this. Knowing when enough is enough is hard to do sometimes. Just one more drink even though I need to drive home. Just one more piece of pizza despite needing to unbuckle the belt to breath. Just one more hour of work despite my son’s soccer game. Just one more project to add to the portfolio even though the team’s bandwidth is shrinking. When is enough enough? Is it truly necessary to add more to an already bloated system? One should always ask “Do I need this?” If the answer is yes, then ask “why?” The answer should be aligned with being essential.

HR Implication: Aristotle once discussed a “golden mean.” This is how I like to view moderation – it is balance. Too much of a good thing is excess, but not enough is deficiency. So, too, must we moderate our professional lives in certain ways. Too much emotion leads to a toxic situation. Not enough emotion leads to detachment and disillusionment. Too much oversight leads to alienation and micromanagement. Not enough leads to anarchy and lost production. Finding the “golden mean” is difficult but necessary. Learn to be water and you’ll learn to be exactly what is needed when it is needed. That is balance.

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Take each one of the Cardinal Virtues at a single time, and we have a solid individual attribute. Taken all at once, and we begin to enter the world of the philosopher king or queen.

Ultimately, all the Cardinal Virtues are linked. It’s rare to have one without the another. They form a sense of unity. Through justice, I can behave moderately. Through wisdom, I can behave with courage. Through courage, I can behave with justice. At the end of the day, it’s about doing the right thing.

As Marcus Aurelius reminded himself (and us), “Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter. Cold or warm. Tired or well-rested. Despised or honored.”

It all begins and ends with virtue. Make the choice you know to be right. Have a happy new year! Much success and virtue coming your way!

The Two Wolves: Compassionate HR

“There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“I’m just doing my job,” I said.

“Well, no one in HR has ever helped me in this way,” the employee returned.

“I am sorry to hear that…”

This is a conversation I have had many times over my career. Recently, it seems I’ve been having it more and more. And yet, I continue to be astounded that I am having it. To me the natural reaction should be nothing! Nothing because “good HR” is something people should come to expect. It should be the rule, not an exception.

Apparently, however, good HR is hard to find, though it shouldn’t be. I hear story after story from my family, my colleagues, my coworkers about their annoying (at best) and disastrous (at worst) interactions with their People Departments. These stories come from all sectors and all organizational sizes, and they make me resolved – resolved to continue building up the reputation of HR towards positive ends. I want to leave a mark that helps transform HR from the stereotype of corporate stooge to the reality of people empowerer.

I want all HR and people professionals to believe in the good they can and should be doing for their fellow humanity. We don’t do it for accolades; we don’t need notoriety. Ultimately, I want our profession to do good because it’s the right thing to do!

Lead with humanity, lead with compassion!!! I used to have a personal motto where I’d tell myself: “lead with empathy.” However, over the last few years, COVID has challenged me on this front. I believe compassion is needed more.

According to a BetterUp article:

Compassion and empathy are fundamentally different but closely related. Consider these definitions:

  • Empathy definition: empathy is our feeling of awareness toward other people’s emotions and an attempt to understand how they feel.
  • Compassion definition: compassion is an emotional response to empathy or sympathy and creates a desire to help.

Empathy is an understanding of our shared humanity. It’s the ability to see yourself in another person’s shoes. Compassion adds another dimension of a desire to help.

I believe empathy is vital and important, yet, I now believe it’s not enough. That’s where compassion comes into play. Where empathy is “feeling and understanding,” compassion is “feeling and understanding leading to action.” Compassionate people don’t just feel the other person’s pain, desires, or needs; they take those feelings and try to put into place an action plan to provide relief, help, assistance, or a solution. Compassion is vital to HR if we are to grow and become the department that is needed to transform folks’ lives for the better.

And, compassion begins with oneself. If you don’t care about yourself and do the right things for yourself, you cannot care for others or help them. And I wonder if this is a root cause for much of the malaise that bogs down the profession.

Many HR professionals become cynical about the employee experience. They get beaten down by bad experience after bad experience, refusing to acknowledge their part in said experience. Sometimes, there is nothing that can be done. Many times, there is always something that can be done!

There is an ancient Native American parable, many times attributed to the Cherokee, known as the Two Wolves.

A grandfather is talking with his grandson trying to teach him about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

The grandfather continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The lesson of this story is about self-nurturing. No one communicates more with you than YOU! What are you telling yourself? Which wolf are you feeding? As Epictetus said, “We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”

Your choice to feed the good wolf can reverberate well beyond your wolfpack, as can feeding your evil wolf. The choice should be easy, but it is often not acknowledged.

Wellbeing and happiness, which can help lead to compassion, aren’t conditional states. They are a state of being all by themselves.

True lasting compassion comes from making an active choice to feed the good wolf. It does not depend on external things. You already have everything you need to be happy because you are whole as you are, right now. So feed the good wolf, and as it becomes bigger and stronger, it will be better equipped to assist you in handling all the HR challenges thrown your way – as well as any personal life challenges!

Paul’s Top 5 Reads in 2021

“The world has changed. I see it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Do you ever wonder about how much knowledge has been forgotten? How much has been lost to history? From ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Ideas, biographies, history – so much we used to know that burned like books in the Library of Alexandria.

Similarly, organizations suffer from this when they lack sufficient institutional knowledge. Long gone are the days where folks stay at organizations for decades. When people leave, they take more than their skills. They also take their knowledge.

And both are linked. Without knowledge, there can be no skill. Where does one get knowledge? Many places, but the place where I prefer to get mine are in book! When Jon Snow asked Tyrion Lannister why he read so much, Tyrion replied: “…a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. That’s why I read so much, Jon Snow.”

This is why I read so much, too! When people leave, you can figure out a way to weather the storm by learning more through consistent reading! It’s a way to build some relief when institutional knowledge leaves.

Without reading and thinking, the mind – much like the body without exercise – becomes withered and useless. I encourage everyone seeking to be a leader, or a better version of themselves (often the two are not mutually exclusive), that reading opens the pathway to many abilities some consider to be marketable!

2021 was no exception. So, here are my top five reads of 2021!

Courage is Calling: Fortune Favors the Brave by Ryan Holiday

Anyone who knows me knows how much Stoicism has influenced who I am as a person. When Ryan Holiday announced that he was releasing a series of books on the four key virtues of ancient philosophy. The first in the series is incredibly timely – COURAGE. It’s a concept that Holiday notes is needed (seemingly) now more than ever. Without courage, according to Holiday, as well as many ancient philosophers, there can be no other virtues. Being a better person and bettering yourself begins with and ends with courage.

Key take away: Courage is not an absence of fear. Courage is acting in spite of your fear! To go through the journey of courage, one must face fear. Facing it and concurring it is courage. This ultimately helps you become something more: Heroic. Heroes put the interests of others above their own self-interest.

Key passage: “Courage is risk. It is sacrifice. …commitment …perseverance …truth …determination. When you do the thing others cannot or will not do.” (pg. xix)

Betting On You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career by Laurie Ruttimann

I cannot recall when I first came across Laurie’s name, but she has deeply influenced me and my career for years. Her attitude of “this is who I am, deal or don’t” is something I try to aspire to! It’s not in a cocky or “I’m better than you” way. I think this ethos is incredibly poignant in her former motto “Punk Rock HR!” As a metalhead, this is something I’ve become deeply inspired by. Her book is a culmination of her story and journey of not coloring inside the lines and still making beautiful art.

Key take away: Work sucks, or at least most of it does. And you cannot fix work unless you fix YOU first. This makes total sense when you think of the flight attendant’s instructions. Put YOUR mask on first, and then you can help others put their masks on. Do the work to fix yourself.

Key passage: “Recruiting conferences are notoriously dull, but Lars [Schmidt] took the stage and expressed a passion for radically reinventing the world of work around talented employees. He asked people to stop thinking the worst of workers and start designing HR policies and programs that highlighted the best in employees. And he challenged the audience to be better versions of themselves, too.” (pg. 203)

Redefining HR: Transforming People Teams to Drive Business Performance by Lars Schmidt

This book is a game changer. It NEEDS to be a text book in EVERY HR program in the country. It’s that important and ground breaking, in my opinion. The influence needs to be extended to every HR professional from here to Taiwan and back. The book centers on how HR is changing, and for HR professionals to take ownership in this change – be active in it, not simply be passengers in the revolution.

Key take away: The key take away for me is Lars’ emphasis on changing “legacy HR” to “modern HR.” For any HR system to thrive, Lars argues, it needs to shift and embrace Modern HR, as outlined below:

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 

Key passage: “The modern CHRO holds one of the most difficult positions in the C-Suite. You have to possess a deep understanding of the business that’s on par with your executive peers. You need to be able to influence and guide the CEO as a trusted advisor on all things people. You must grasp the nuance of your business and strategic plan so that you can align your people strategy for where you are today an where you’re going over the next several years. All while overseeing the company’s most volatile asset – its people.” (pg. 26)

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant

Adam Grant is a national treasure. His ability to take complex problems and offer approachable solutions is uncanny. I have been a huge fan since I saw him on the keynote stage at National SHRM Conference in 2018. His ability to be “real world” with academic ideas can help anyone up their work and personal game. In this book, he clearly lays out that you are not as smart as you think you are, and that’s OK! We all have what’s called “bounded rationality,” or knowledge is limited! We don’t know, and cannot know, everything, or even a majority of things! It is impossible, so we need to be open to changing how we think and understand information!

Key take away: I think this entire book can be summed up in these amazing quotes:

“It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.” – Epictetus

“You must unlearn what you have learned.” – Yoda

Key passage: “Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe. Values are your core principles in life – they might be excellence and generosity, freedom and fairness, or security and integrity. Basing your identity on these kinds of principles enables you to remain openminded about the best ways to advance them.” (pg. 64)

Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most by Greg McKeown

A revolutionary book to the way I think is Essentialism, so when I saw the sequel come out, I pounced! Both books are about simplicity being key! So, in keeping with that theme, I will keep this short and sweet. Buy the book! You won’t regret! 😊

Key take away: There’s a theory called Occam’s razor. Essentially, it means the simplest explanation is the likely correct one. Applied to decision making, you can ask the question “What is the simplest way to achieve my desired results?” That’s the key to the book!

Key passage: “Essentialism is about doing the right things; Effortless is about doing the right way.” (pg. 12)

Honorable Mentions:

I had three other books I read in 2021 that really hit me different. However, they were not released in 2021… so, I just wanted to mention them in case you were interested!

Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee by Shannon Lee

The 9 Faces of HR: A Disruptor’s Guide to Mastering Innovation and Driving Real Change by Kris Dunn

The Jedi Mind: Secrets from the Force for Balance and Peace by Amy Ratcliffe

Back to the Future! A #WISHRM21 Guide to Help You Prepare for In-Person Conferences!

Wisconsin State SHRM Conference SMILE Team members!

“We all have to make decisions that affect the course of our lives.” – “Doc” Emmet Brown

The last in-person conference I attended was the SHRM National Conference in Las Vegas. No, not the one that was just held this past September, but the one held in June 2019! It’s been over two years since I felt that rush of being at a gathering of peers! I don’t need to go into why I haven’t been to another one since then, I assume.

That all changes THIS WEEK, as I prepare to attend the Wisconsin State SHRM Conference in the Dells! I’m incredibly excited. I miss interacting with people. I miss learning from my peers and my heroes. I miss the side conversations, the informal discussions, the little things that make conferences amazing and so reinvigorating.

So, I had to think… it’s been two years! How does this work again??? Well, I figure some of you may have had the same question, or for first time attendees, they may be asking, what should I expect at a large-scale conference?

Well, as a way of helping myself prepare for this once yearly ritual, I present to you, tips and tricks to help you prepare for attending a HR conference!

Act I: Pre-Conference Packing

  1. Listen to the HR Sushi Bar Podcast SMILE Team Introduction for WI SHRM Pre-Conference prep!
  2. Comfortable lightweight backpack or side bag to carry all your items.
  3. Laptop or tablet with chords!
  4. Note book and nice pens if you’re a note taker!
  5. Portable recharging pack for your cell phone or other devices.
  6. Refillable water bottle.
  7. Baggy of “toiletries” such as hand sanitizer, hand lotion, cough drops (if your throat is dry due to allergies, if you’re sick STAY HOME), mints, cap stick, and eye drops for contact wearers – or folks with dry eyes or allergies!
  8. Business cards – just in case an old school network contact needs your info. Otherwise, many folks can find one another on LinkedIn if you ask! But sometimes, vendors have prize drawings if you drop your business card in their fish bowls.
  9. Oh, and make sure you have an extra mask just in case!

Act II: At the Conference

  1. Dress comfortably and in layers.
  2. Bring a light sweater just in case. Sometimes, those rooms get cold!
  3. COMFY shoes. You do a lot of walking.
  4. Download the Conference App in the App store! If you can’t, print the schedule to bring with.
  5. Schedule your day. Make sure you know which sessions you want to attend, and where they are at.
  6. Have a back up session just in case the session wasn’t what you thought it was. It’s not that those sessions aren’t full of great info. It’s just in case it’s not the right fit or need for you at that moment like you thought it’d be.
  7. Make sure you have your Twitter app open so you can follow the live Tweeting! Use hashtag #WISHRM21 and #SMILETeam! Follow the fellow #SMILETeam members Mary Williams and Jeff Palkowski!
  8. Visit the vendor booths! These conferences could NOT happen without the vendors, who help pay for a large portion of the events. Show them a professional courtesy and thank you by visiting them. Don’t just take the sweet swag, but if there’s something that could benefit you and your organization, talk to them! These vendors are people too, and are just trying to do their jobs.
  9. NETWORK! Talk to folks about why they are at the show, who they are seeing, and what they’re learning! Talking shop is fine, but take it to the next level by asking about that person’s deeper motivations and interests! That’s where real, meaningful conversations begin!
  10. HAVE FUN! Remember, this is a rejuvenating event for you to recharge your batteries. Work will still be there when you get back! Don’t ignore the emergencies, but prioritize yourself and your learning experience!

Act III: Post-Conference

  1. If you haven’t done so already, reach out on social media and connect with any new friends or peeps you met! Do the same for any presenters that you saw.
  2. When connecting, send them a brief into as to why you’re connecting! If you saw a presenter, tell them you wanted to connect to continue learning from them since you enjoyed their session at WISHRM. This adds more of a kind personalized touch! When genuinely done, it’s a game changer.
  3. Make a list (mentally or otherwise) of things you learned and want to implement at work! Think about preparing a great business case to convince your boss.
  4. Remember that conferences are meant to help you continue your journey, not a fun one-time event where you forget everything once you’re back at the office (or home office).

Did you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share?? Please leave them in the comments! THANK YOU for reading, and looking forward to seeing you at WISRHM 2021 Conference!

Future Ready HR! A #WISHRM21 Interview with THE Jennifer McClure!!!

Banner concept of innovation, creativity and imagination

“It’s time to redefine HR. … I’m talking about our capabilities. Our impact. How we develop and support each other to evolve our field. This is about shaking free of legacy perceptions and dogma of our past and building something new.” – Lars Schmidt, from Redefining HR: Transforming People Teams to Drive Business Performance

There are people who inspire you, challenge you, demand you think differently. They expect nothing less than a mindset that confronts the status quo, but more appropriately, dismisses it. As the old saying goes, you can’t open new doors with old keys. These folks are locksmiths.

For me, one of the more impactful locksmiths is Jennifer McClure. She is an entrepreneur, speaker, and high-performance coach, who works with leaders to leverage their influence, increase their impact, and accelerate results. Frequently recognized as a global influencer and expert on the future of work, leadership, and innovative people strategies, Jennifer has decades of in-the-trenches leadership and executive experience.

I first met Jennifer in 2019 when I attended her SHRM National Conference mega session on “Disrupt HR.” I learned her take on what it meant to be a disruptor. To Jennifer, disruption means eschewing comfort. Comfort is the enemy of Awesome. Improvement. Innovation. Where there is pain, there is opportunity!

Some nerd who got to take a selfie with Jennifer at SHRM 2019 National Conference in Las Vegas.

This so changed my mindset on so much…. And I am eternally grateful for having her wake a place inside of me that begged to be up!

I am honored to have interviewed her for her #WISHRM21 session, “Future Ready HR.” In the session attendees will learn what skills, competencies, and mindsets that will define

effective HR Leaders in the future of work. They will learn how to embrace and lead change while developing high-trust, high-value relationships with business partners, as well as learn from real-life examples and lessons learned from leaders who have taken risks and disrupted HR in their organizations.

Without further ado, here is the one and only, Jennifer McClure!

1. I believe you’re a leader when it comes to challenging “legacy HR.” What is legacy HR and why is it important to challenge it?

I’m a product of “legacy HR”, and it taught me everything I know! I often tell HR leaders that I’m sharing with them how they can really step into the opportunity to have influence and impact in their organizations by also sharing all of the things that I did wrong. J

When I started my career in HR (ahem, Personnel) over 30 years ago, it was all about command and control, transactions, policies, procedures, and administration. You know, the Hits! I cringe sometimes when I think about how often I told a manager that they couldn’t do something without my permission, or quoted a passage from the handbook to an employee as a reason they couldn’t do something.

Thankfully, with some wise and patient bosses, some great mentors, and by discovering a plethora of great virtual mentors online through their blog and social media posts, I learned that there was a better way, and that true influence and impact is gained by having strong relationships, and an approach and reputation as someone who is not only knowledgeable in the ways of HR, but who also willing to listen, learn – and to admit to being wrong sometimes.

Great HR leaders really understand that their role is to ensure that their organization has the people that it needs, with the skills they must have to deliver upon strategic objectives. That requires creativity, innovation, and a willingness to think differently, because the world is always changing. “Legacy HR” was always about maintaining something, or keeping things the same. That’s never going to be a path forward, or to great impact!

2. You are one of the leading figures in the Disrupt HR movement! Can you give readers a little background on what “disrupting” means to you and how it adds value to the profession?

When people hear the word “disrupt”, they often think negatively. Chaos and disorganization may come to mind, and as a result, in the past, many leaders didn’t want to be association with such a word. But I believe that disruption is about seeking what’s new, and what’s next – even when things are going well. Those who truly embrace disrupting are never satisfied with the status quo. They know that to stay competitive – and to move their teams and organization forward – they have to think differently, and try new things.

One thing that is often missed by those who embrace disruption is that it also requires embracing failure. Not in the sense that “failure is awesome!”, but the fact that failure will happen when trying something new. I love this quote that is attributed to Henry Ford – “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again. This time, more intelligently.”

To successfully “disrupt HR”, or to “disrupt the future of work”, it’s important to see failures as opportunities to learn, try again, and do something different. Disruption is typically an iterative process, and many leaders aren’t comfortable with that. I believe that Future-Ready HR leaders must not only embrace disruption in their function, but also lead and champion it in their organizations.

3. Without giving away too much from your session, what is the #1 key skill HR professionals NEED in today’s workplace to be impactful?

I’ll over-deliver here, with not one, but FOUR key skills I believe that HR professionals need to achieve success in the future of work:

  1. Know the business
  2. Think strategically
  3. Solve business problems
  4. Influence change

If you want to know more about how you can do that, I’ll share more in my session! 😉

4. In your experience, do you feel many HR practitioners are hesitant to challenge the organizational legacies of their workplaces? If so, or even for those who are, how can folks overcome that hesitation or fear?

Yes. Many HR practitioners are hesitant to challenge the status quo. Sometimes, it’s because they’re not interested in change. Sometimes, it’s because their organizational leadership isn’t interested in them changing. And sometimes, it’s because they don’t know how to approach their work differently.

For those who are personally not interested in changing, or their organizational leadership views HR as transactional and administrative, unfortunately, they’re going to be left behind. Their careers and their organization will never be as successful as they could be, because the world of work is changing at a faster pace than ever before. Employees think differently about work, and technology has – and will continue to – completely change the game. Staying the same really isn’t an option anymore, and it will affect their organization’s ability to attract, develop, and retain the talent that they need – which is the core purpose of HR.

For those who don’t know how to approach their work differently, I’ve got great news! There has never been a better time to take charge of your learning and development, and to connect with progressive HR leaders and thought leaders. The internet has essentially democratized learning. You an access an infinite supply of free to reasonably priced training courses (check out WI SHRM 2021 keynote speaker Laurie Ruettimann’s LinkedIn Learning courses) on demand. You can read blogs from fellow HR practitioners like this one from Paul LaLonde, or from SHRM Board Member Steve Browne. And by intentionally using social media to connect and learn, you can build relationships, and follow a strong and supportive #HRCommunity located around the world.

5. If we are going to dismantle HR as we know it, or at least challenge some of its more enduring functions, what do you feel needs to be rethought or replaced first?

I believe that you’re a leader in HR, regardless of your job title, or your position on the Organization Chart. Any job that you hold in HR comes with a tremendous opportunity to influence and impact the organization, because you are influencing and impacting the people who are delivering upon its purpose.

For too long, HR leaders have viewed their role as a support function, and something that is done in the background, or the shadows. It’s my mission in life to help HR leaders (remember, that’s you) to see and step into this amazing opportunity. That journey starts with discovering and developing a strong personal brand, and adopting a continuous learning mindset.

6. In one (if you can) sentence, what is the future of HR?

The future of HR requires leaders who are Curious, Determined, Innovative, and Disruptive.

7. Lightning round! Time for some extra fun!

Where is the most unique place you’ve visited?

The island of Jersey, for DisruptHR Channel Islands in 2019. I didn’t know it existed before traveling there!

What is your favorite book?

Too hard to pick just one! I’ll give you two of my favorites in 2021 – Betting On You by Laurie Ruettimann, and You Are the Brand by Mike Kim.

What are your horses’ names and why?

Roxanne (Roxxy) came to me in 2015 with that name. My trainer saw a picture of her in a Facebook group, and convinced me to buy her without even meeting her. I’m glad I trusted her, and made that crazy decision. Roxxy has changed my life for the better.

HRH The Princess Royal (Nahla) is my baby. I was there for her birth, and her mom was my heart horse, who has since passed away. Her mother (Sarabi) was my Queen, so I chose Nahla’s show name to reflect the highest honor given to a female member of the royal family. Since that was a bit fancy, I chose Nahla as her barn name, because I like Halle Berry’s daughter’s name. Weirdly, both Sarabi and Nahla are names in The Lion King, but neither were named from that. 😂

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

Eminem – Lose Yourself

What is your drink of choice?

If you know, you know – there is only one.

Developing Managers to Lead! A #WISHRM Interview with Kristin Derwinski

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter F. Drucker

Leadership development. When done well, it seems to be the archeological treasure that is hard to find yet sweet to obtain! Many a great HR leader has tried developing their internal leadership programs only to encounter giant boulders, poison darts, and snakes as if they were Indiana Jones!

I am one of these archeologists – looking to build our internal leadership academy at my organization. I’ve scoured caves, deserts, and pyramids! So, when I was that there was a session at Wisconsin State SHRM Conference, I had to meet Kristen Derwkinski to learn more!

Kristin has an extensive background in talent and organizational development. She has served in various internal domestic and international HR Leadership roles and has extensive experience working in varying capacities across an HR function including: Change Management, Executive Leadership Development, Organizational Development and Succession Management. She has spent her career working with leaders to build high performing and development cultures.

Kristin will be presenting Developing Managers to Lead at Wisconsin State SHRM Conference 2021. Kristin will share key lessons learned and facilitate a discussion around learning solutions for new managers, mid-level managers, and high potentials who will be in that role.

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. In your experience, what are the key skills missing from people managers struggling to make it as a leader?

This is a great question! There are several key ones I touch on in the session.

  • Coaching: People Managers need to meet their employees where they are. The best way to do this is by getting to know who they are as a person, listening to their career aspirations, identifying their strengths, and providing regular and frequent feedback.
  • Plan first, act second: As you move into a leadership role, the day-to-day execution becomes less of where you spend your time. Planning becomes critical as you think about where you are going and how you align your team and collaborate with your peers
  • Prioritization: There is so much happening every day and so many people find themselves pulled in many directions. The power of 3 is critical.  What are the top 3 things you need to focus on, deliver and then focus on the next 3.  You can use this to think about your day, week, month, or year.
  • Delegation: In talking with new managers, this is usually one of the first competencies we talk about developing.  It is hard to do, especially if the work is something you love to do.  Leaders need to quickly change their approach from getting the work done and receiving praise to celebrating when your team gets the work done.  A leader’s job quickly becomes focused on removing obstacles and then getting out of the way.

2. What has been the biggest shift in training people managers over the last five years?

The biggest shift, that I find most exciting, is the move from coaching as a developmental resource from being offered to only those in executive roles to those at the manager level.  The introduction of group coaching, and peer coaching is now an important part of manager development programs.  People need to learn and then apply it and then talk through their learning experiences with their peers.  It is a great way to help managers sustain the learning and application from development programs.

3. What is the best way organizations can prep high potential employees for a future people manager role?

Find ways to put them in situations where they can lead others.  I have seen organizations assign interns to future managers or ask the high potential employee to lead a group where they provide day to day direction to a group of people.  The key is to create experiences on the job where they can practice in a safe environment.

4. Communication skills, or lack thereof, seem to be an ever-contentious sticking point in many people managers’ performances. How do you advise organizations to work to develop these vital necessary skill sets? 

The best way is to develop avenues to put in “structure” or opportunities where managers need to communicate one on one or with their teams.  Here are some examples:

  • Recommend monthly performance feedback sessions where managers and their direct reports meet to talk through business and development goals, and figure out a way to reward managers that are executing on this!
  • After major company wide communications, provide managers with speaking points to bring the information back to their team to reinforce key messages.
  • Provide Sr. Leaders and their direct reports with the coaching they need so they can coach their managers to continue to communicate with their team – you need to make it part of your culture!

5. There’s an old adage that leaders are readers. What three books must all leaders have in their library?

First, I recommend Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham. Great book! Next, Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, and finally, LEAD NOW! by John-Parker and Daniel Stewart. I’d explain why, but then I’d give away their secrets! 😊

6. Can you discuss briefly how technology helps develop leadership skills in organizations? How can technology build a culture of leadership?

There are so many benefits of technology today. Here are a few:

  • Assessments: The best way people learn is to understand where they are and identify where they need to be. Technology has enabled quick tools and information at our fingertips.
  • Virtual tools: We are all working so much. Virtual tools have provided new ways we can get information right in front of us. I can talk to my coach, quickly attend a webinar and attend a networking event all in the same day. Yes, we could do this before, but we now have access globally and that is a big deal.
  • Ready reference: Managers today don’t have the time to attend weeklong sessions.  They do have the time to research a topic, find a tool and learn quickly how to apply it.  How to videos, chat sessions and other micro-learnings have been great ways to learn and apply when you need it.

Technology is a vehicle to share learnings and information.  If your organization creates the vision, describes the culture and provides guidance to leaders around expectations and tools to be great, technology can help deliver that information. 

7. Lightning round! Time for some extra fun!

Where is the most unique place you’ve visited?

Tlaquepaque, Mexico. It is a fantastic little city with great culture, an artisan vibe and amazing people.

What is your favorite holiday?

Christmas – you can never have too many lights.

What is your favorite movie?

We are big Star Wars fans!

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

I have no idea.  I will have to think about that one… 😊

What is your drink of choice?

Right now, it is water, boring, but true.

Build Immunity to Negativity: A #WISHRM21 Interview with Tina Hallis

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

Admittedly, much of my life I have been negative. It’s taken me years to undo what came natural to me – seeing the bad in things rather than the good! Also admittedly, I have a long way to go, BUT… I feel my progress has been rather remarkable! Learning to “embrace the suck” is tough, but necessary to grow. Amor fati or bust!

So, when I saw the session Build Immunity to Negativity at the upcoming Wisconsin State SHRM Conference, I knew I had to connect with the mind behind the session! 

Tina Hallis, Ph.D. is certified in Positive Psychology through the WholeBeing Institute. She is the author of Sharpen Your Positive Edge: Shifting Your Thoughts for More

Positivity & Success, which will be added to my reading list! Tina worked for 20+ years as a scientist in Biotechnology before discovering a new science called Positive Psychology in 2011.

Her background alone fascinates me, so this interview is one I am very excited to share with you all! You can connect with Tina on her LinkedIn page, and I hope you get the opportunity to see her session at Wisconsin State SHRM Conference 2021.

1. Your session and background frequently mention “positive psychology.” Could you please tell the readers what this is and how it is linked to your presentation?

There are many formal definitions out there, but a simple one I like is by Shelly L. Gable (Dept. of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles) and Jonathan Haidt (Dept of Psychology, University of Virginia) “Positive psychology is the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions.”

In a way, it’s applying science to the advice and wisdom passed down through philosophers, spiritual leaders, and maybe even our grandparents. For example, we now have studies demonstrating the benefits of taking time for gratitude, of helping others, of spending time reminiscing about positive memories. It’s taking ideas and concepts that may seem “fluffy” to some people and backing them up with evidence to make them more credible, and, hopefully, reaching more people so they can use this information. The research shows how applying these ideas in our daily life not only make us feel happier, it improves our resilience, motivation, and optimism. Study after study indicate improvements in relationships, sleep, health, leadership, teamwork, marriages, parenting, performance at work, and the list goes on. 

In my presentation, I specifically focus on how other people’s negativity can impact us and how we can use the concepts in positive psychology to “build our immunity.” 

2. Your session description has an interesting phrase: “changing how you respond” to a negative situation, colleague, boss. What is the background for this phrase and why is this important to your session? 

I’ve  been speaking on and teaching Positive Psychology since 2013. The most common question I would get after these programs was, “How can I make my partner, boss, child, coworker, more positive? They’re so negative, and they’re making me feel stressed, unhappy, frustrated.” To provide the best answer and support, I decided to not only dig deeper into the research, but also interview a number of experts. The biggest and most common theme that emerged was learning to “change how you respond.” It’s very difficult to change other people. The one person we have the most control over is ourself. We all know this, but it’s not easy to do. So in my program I talk about ways that make it easier to change our response, AND we explore what that change might look like. What are are some internal changes we can make? What are external changes that would make the situation better?

3. Did you have a particular situation or situations you’d like to share that lead you down the path to building your own immunity to negativity? 

In addition to my talks and trainings, I wanted to provide more support to help people make lasting change. I decided an online course could be a great tool where people could choose approaches to try in their daily lives and find what works best for them. The course would provide context, support, and ideas for them to choose from. Since the most common concern was how to change other people, I decided that would be an “easy” place to start. Ha!! Little did I know… What I thought was going to be a quick and simple project turned into an exploration that taught me so much and changed me as a person. I believe the 5-step Immunity to Negativity Formula that emerged out of this endeavor has made me a better parent, a better spouse, and a better friend. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I tend to react to others. Now when my husband misunderstands me or my teenage daughter is feeling frustrated, it’s easier to stay calm and choose a response that doesn’t escalate the situation and may even make things better. I’m far from perfect but it’s a process that I keep working on.

4. I’ve seen a lot of articles and pieces lately about “toxic positivity.” How do your methods avoid the pitfalls of a “good vibes only” mentality? 

This is such an important question!! My goal is to help people understand that it’s all about balance. Negative emotions serve a purpose. They are a critical part of our survival instinct and are telling us there may be a problem that needs our attention. We don’t want to ignore these messages, but we also don’t want to get stuck in them. For example, if we’re feeling upset about someone’s actions, our frustration may be telling us we need to talk to them or set a boundary regarding our interactions with them, or we may need to check in with our own reaction and change how we respond. But if we ignore these feelings, and pretend everything is fine, we let the problem fester and it will continue to drain more of our energy and happiness.  Another common mistake is to offer advice to others instead of offering empathy. My teenage daughter has taught me the importance of validating other people’s feelings. Everybody has a right to their emotions. Sometimes I’ll ask my daughter if she wants advice or just wants me to listen.

5. You are a DiSC expert. I love personality assessments and how they can bring greater awareness into how one conducts work, communicates, and generally lives their life. Do you make any connections between DiSC and positive psychology?

I have a few programs that tie DiSC and positive psychology together. These topics focus on having more positive interactions, whether it’s teamwork, relationships with our coworkers or boss, or our relationships outside of work. I’ve found that when we can understand and appreciate our differences, it improves our abilities to cooperate, communicate, and connect. It becomes easier to not take things personally, to be more patient, and to build trust. I remember the first time I took a DiSC personality assessment in my corporate days. My boss at the time would send me short, concise emails. Sometimes they were only a couple words.  I thought he didn’t like me. But after learning that his personality was “Dominance,” I realized it wasn’t about me. He just preferred getting to the point. I adapted by shortening my emails. Learning this really improved our relationship and my perspective.

6. I consider myself an amature philosopher – especially important to me is Stoicism. A lot of what I see in your session reminds me of Stoic techniques for bettering oneself. Do you see philosophy as being important to the work of positive psychology? 

Definitely! I see positive psychology as a means of applying scientific principles to the many insights and wisdom from philosophy. The research supports how important these ideals are to living our best life and being our best self. Hopefully, focusing on the science will bring even more attention to the value and impact of these concepts. For example, I never heard about the power of our thoughts and how we can influence our emotions by changing our thinking until I was in my forties. Now there are more programs introducing these ideas into the classroom so kids can learn them at an early age. There are more conferences, articles, blogs, and posts. I’m optimistic that this movement will continue to grow and continue to make the world a better place.

7. Lightning round! Time for some extra fun!

What DiSC style are you? Steadiness – I like harmony and making people feel good

What is your vacation destination of choice? Somewhere in nature where I can hike, kayak, and bike. I’ve enjoyed seeing beautiful places in many states. Hopefully international travel will get easier and I can see even more. 

What is your favorite movie? I love the Marvel movies. They tend to combine the right amount of action, adventure, and humor. I also appreciate The Matrix and the idea that what we think is reality is only in our minds.

If you could have “walk-up” music any time you entered a room, what would that song be? Jason Mraz’ I’m Yours. It’s such a happy beat.

Coffee or tea? Herbal tea!! or Kombucha…