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…

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.