Nine Quotes by Marcus Aurelius That Could Change the Way You Do HR (and Life)

“Marcus Aurelius is the noblest of all the men who, by sheer intelligence and force of character, have prized and achieved goodness for its own sake and not for any reward.” – Michael Grant, Historian

It’s no secret that the Stoics have deeply influenced my personal and professional life. When I need wisdom, I turn to the writings of these ancient philosophers, as well as their contemporary heirs.

Other than Ryan Holiday and his incredible breadth of Stoic works, few other Stoic philosopher are likely as influential or as widely read today as Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was Emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 CE. Known as one of the Five Good Emperors, his reign helped usher in much prosperity for the Roman people. Equally as impressive is that he is considered one of the few real-world examples of the Philosopher King that Plato so longed for. He was called “The Philosopher” in many ancient history texts, such as Historia Augusta.

Aurelius wrote what came to be known as Meditations over the course of his life, most likely near the end when he was on the battlefields in present day Austria. The book as we know it today is a collection of his journals that survived after his death. They were never meant to be published or shared, but by happenstance and Providence, we have this wisdom today.

Much like a Christian turning to the Bible, a Muslim turning to the Koran, or a Buddhist turning to their respective Buddhavacana, we can turn to the Meditations when we need some comfort, wisdom, or guidance.

The best thing about Meditations is that it’s not the “word of God” but the word of a very mortal, flawed human being written down in the morning or evening during his most private moments of solitude and reflection. I believe this makes it more relatable and applicable to our life. If the most powerful person in the world had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, then it’s OK that so do we!

Meditations has inspired millions over time – from St. Augustine of Hippo, American Founder George Washington, former president Bill Clinton, the rappers Twista and Lupe Fiasco, former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, actresses Brie Larson and Anna Kendrick, and so so many more. It is a collection of wisdom written by a flawed man, read by flawed people – all trying to be less flawed.

That’s the beauty of the work. We keep trying to be better every single day. We will fall. We will stumble. We will fail. But though that failure, we get better and become better.

As I have maintained since day one of writing this blog, philosophy offers professionals a difference making outlook on life, work, love, and everything. And thankfully, philosophy is more than stuffy textbooks in a college classroom, as Meditations shows.

Philosophy is about living one’s best life and acting on what is right. Stoicism especially teaches this. So, in essence, I take that to heart.

Doing HR right is an act of philosophy to me. It is always important to create space to think, put things into perspective, and act on what is right. Marcus Aurelius has helped me with this!

Here are nine powerful quotes from Meditations that can help us all become better professionals, and people!

Note: There are numerous translations of the ancient text. I used the one by Gregory Hays. It is contemporary and easy to read by eschewing the “thous” and “thees” that make such texts difficult to read. Regardless, any translation can be a great starting point to deepen one’s understanding of the values that Aurelius tried to hold himself to. S/O to O’Brien McMahon for the recommendation!

  1. “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.” – Meditations 2.1

Even Emperors, or especially Emperors, must face the daily barrage of people issues. People are messy. They have different priorities, sometimes conflicting priorities. They are annoying. They are backstabbing. They lie, cheat, steal. But people are our profession in HR, and we wouldn’t be in it if we didn’t know that they are also good. People need help, and we need people. We are here to bridge the gap between wrong and right. In our profession, we help them understand “good” and “evil,” or more contemporarily, we help them understand the culture, the expectations, and their potential! Just keep reminding yourself we’re here to guide them. Don’t let the 20% of your people ruin the other 80% of your experiences!

  • “The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.” – Meditations 4.18

This lesson is one learned through time and age, except for those very special personalities and young rebels. To listen to yourself over naysayers is something we can all hope to achieve. Whether it is finally taking that leap to start your own business, or taking the time to learn a new hobby, or fighting for that policy you know would benefit the people and the organization – listening to yourself starts with trusting yourself. Trust.

  • “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.” – Meditations 5.16

In ancient Rome, purple symbolized the Imperium, and it has stuck with Western culture since antiquity. The purple dye came from the innards of shellfish from present day Lebanon. This comment is reference to that process. Much like dying wool, our minds are dyed by the colors we provide it. This isn’t just Stoic philosophizing. There are scientific studies that show people become what they think. The brain rewires itself to meet reality – or what we believe reality to be. This is powerful. Believe in yourself, as hokey as it sounds, and you will succeed because YOU define what success is. Self-fulfilling prophecies are amazing things. If you are a King. Be a King. If you are a Queen. Be a Queen. If you are a Monarch. Be a Monarch. And you will become royalty.

  • “Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and convers to its own purposes and obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way [emphasis mine].” – Meditations 5.20

This phrase changed my life. I’ve written about its influence and meaning a lot here, here, here, and here.

  • “Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.” – Meditations 6.2

This one is both inspirational and frustrating. YES! Let’s do the right thing! It’s so easy! Except, what is the right thing to do? Sometimes, it is easy. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t invade Ukraine. Other times? Do we need to have layoffs? Will the company go under if we don’t? Do we hide this from employees, or do we be open about it? Sometimes, the right thing to do is not so easily known. However, the goal is always to strive towards doing the right thing with the information, feeling, and reason we have at the time. In the future, it may be proven true. Or, it might be proven that it wasn’t the right thing. Ultimately, we need to keep trying and keep our shared humanity at the center of making the decisions we make. Speaking of…

  • “My city and state are Rome… But as a human being? The world. So for me, ‘good’ can only mean what’s good for both communities.” – Meditations 6.44

“HR is just a shill for corporate.” Anyone in HR has heard this in some form or another! An employee once told me “I know where your loyalties lie.” In an uncharacteristic moment, I let my emotions get the better of me, and said rather curtly “You don’t know anything about my loyalties, so please don’t say that to me again.” The employee backed down, but still that cut me deep because despite all my work over my tenure to be as employee friendly as I could, I was still seen as the employer’s shill. This phrase means a lot to me because, yes, I am on the employers’ side, but I am also on the employees’ side. One cannot exist without the other! Why is this such a hard concept to grasp? We can have a mutually beneficial relationship. Life is not a zero-sum game. Ultimately, what is good for all is the direction HR should lead.

  • “You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.” – Meditations 6.52

In today’s world of “hot takes” and “instant outrage” and “cancel culture,” it’s nice to know that we really don’t have to have an opinion on every little (or “big”) thing. That’s powerful. Do we really need hot takes on everything!?! Having no opinion on trivial garbage is so freeing! And it leaves us space to have opinions on what really matters! The decision to have an opinion is just that, a decision! Opinions are decisions, and we can change our opinions, or decide not to have them. There’s so much going on in the world, that being discerning with our thoughts adds more value than having a half-baked opinion on everything.

  • “Don’t be ashamed to need help.” – Meditations 7.7

The Emperor of the Roman Empire, one of the most powerful and consequential states in world history, wrote to himself that it’s OK to need help. If this man can accept help from others, why can’t you? Are you so proud? Are you so much better? No. All people need help, and we need to be more open and accepting of that – not only with others, but with ourselves. The mental health crisis in America and the world is only going to get worse with the continued fallout of COVID the renewed threat of nuclear holocaust. Just be kind to yourself and others. It’s OK to not be OK. Roll with it.

  • “To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice – it degrades you. And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing.” – Meditations 9.4-5

Now, seemingly more than ever, HR is at the apex of organizational right and wrong. If HR has historically been a gatekeeper, even if we despise and revile that term and role, then let’s make our gates open only for what is right and just. When HR acts inappropriately towards others, they hurt themselves. When they act on what is right for others, they do good for themselves. So, do good! Build policies for real DEI+ Belonging advancement. Build a culture that welcomes trusting and engaging with employees. Open the doors for pay transparency and pay equity. All of it while closing the door to bigotry, harassment, and social non-acceptance. HR is pivotal for changing our culture for the better. Accept the cause and take it up and run!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Agrippa’s Trilemma and the Meaning of Life

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The meaning of life is that it is to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems.— Bruce Lee

Google “the meaning of life” and 1,260,000,000 results appear. It’s safe to say that this is a mystery many folks want to figure out. As with many other existential questions – like where do we come from?, what are we?, and where are we going? – the questions of what is the meaning of life is likely unanswerable.

Or, better yet, it likely has as many answers as there are humans on the planet. Despite his recent negative news coverage (some of it deserved, some of it not), Joe Rogan does have interesting and thoughtful guests on his podcast. Surprisingly, or maybe not if I were paying closer attention, Mike Tyson was an awe-inspiring guest, who had a thoughtful response about discipline that really made me reevaluate how I tackle my own self-discipline.

For the purposes of this piece, I recently saw a LinkedIn post with a minute clip of Rogan interviewing Naval Ravikant, a successful entrepreneur and investor. In the discussion, Ravikant brought up Agrippa’s Trilemma, also known as the Münchhausen trilemma.

Essentially, the Trilemma sets out to ask “is it possible to prove any truth?” Essentially, according to the argument, no, it is impossible to prove the validity of an argument. Ironic, no???

Broken out, the Trilemma states no argument is provable because the why can never be answered because of the following flaws:

  1. Circular Reasoning: A logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with. “A is true because B is true; B is true because A is true.” Example: The HR Director told us lying to the boss is bad. Why is lying to the boss bad? Because the HR Director told us. So, lying is bad!
  • Infinite Regress: Those who have children can likely relate to this next example, or those who have an employee who is never satisfied with your response! A child asks a question. The parent gives a response. The child asks “why,” and the parent answers. The child asks “why,” and the parent answers. This continues FOR-EV-ER! The answer in the loop only exists because of the previous answer, and there is no answer that “why” cannot be a response.
  • Axiomatic Statements: This is a statement that is taken to be true, to serve as a starting point for further reasoning and arguments. It is a statement that doesn’t require proof! It is self-explanatory! You have likely heard conversations where someone says – maybe you – “it’s common sense.” Common sense demands that the person is aware of and familiar with certain things in the environment! Another is anything to do with “God” or religion. Maybe the “math says this” or “science says this.” When we hear these statements, we are to assume that what follows, or preceded, is true based on pre-existing knowledge that doesn’t require any other proof!

I will ironically ask, why is all this important? Raag Trivedi writes it is because of epistemology, or the study of how humans acquire knowledge and justify our arguments.

“We live in times where we are surrounded by all kinds of news. Media is playing a strong role on the global platform. Epistemology as a field, stresses on the importance of research and fact-checking for the individual. While we have the presence of media to provide us with information and shape our opinions, we should not alienate ourselves from this process.”

These ideas are important in the field of human resources, especially logical Fallacies –flawed, deceptive, or false arguments that can be proven wrong with reasoning. Knowing logical fallacies can help you to navigate future disputes with bosses and colleagues without descending into anger or judgement. By building better arguments and recognizing flaws in others’ logic, your work will be enhanced along with the organization!

Also important is the idea of how people learn! Today, we read article after article about how the future success of all organizations hinges on the training provided to employees, managers especially. Knowing how people learn best is the key to ensuring that these trainings don’t end up as fun exercises that are quickly forgotten once they leave the training room and reenter the workplace.

For what it’s worth, I currently believe the meaning of life is to live. It’s that simple in my mind. We are put on this earth, or we randomly find our selves on this earth, so we should make the most of it while we’re out and about! Just live. Do good by you and yours, and don’t hurt others. Ultimately, however, that seems easier said than done for many – yours truly included.

People are flawed. Fallible. It’s best to let them find their own truth, so long as it’s grounded in some form of logic and reasonableness. Unless you’re the Pope speaking ex cathedra. Shrug!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Street Level Influencer – Meet Kim Bozeman

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

Street level influencers provide that for us.

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

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

So far in the series, I have shared stories from:

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

I met this next Street Level Influencer where I’ve made many a friend, social media! Kimberly Bozeman is someone I have only known for a little while, but I feel a connection to her. I believe this shows what a truly special person she is! She even asked me to help proof some of her marketing materials, and being a reading and proofing nerd, I said YES! Spoiler: Her shit was awesome and didn’t need much editing at all!

I hope she doesn’t mind my sharing, but she almost didn’t want to do the Street Level Influencer interview! I told her that this series is about showcasing amazing folks, and I felt her story should be shared with others – but ONLY on HER terms and in HER way. I believe Kim is special, and I wanted to use my platform to get to know her better and share what made her special with the world!

And I’m not the only one. Just a few days ago, the ones and only Jon and Wendy dropped their HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast episode with Kim as their guest. I listened, and LOVED IT!

So, without further ado, here is my interview with Kim! ENJOY!

So, you recently began venturing out as an independent HR consultant! CONGRATS! Tell us about your company.

Yes, it’s been so exciting, exhausting, and an incredible journey. KNB is a full-service HR Solution firm. What makes us unique is that our solutions are customized to each organization’s industry, mission, vision, and values. HR is not a one size fit all model. To optimize growth and give your people the best experience, it’s essential that HR understands the organization’s business, pain points, and vision and plan accordingly.

I could not agree more if I tried! What is your business strategy? What makes this venture “pop?”

While we support a few industries, our primary clients are startups or organizations in the pharmaceutical or tech industries going through rapid growth. My clients overall have realized the value that HR can provide, so our focus is on making HR accessible for smaller, but growing, organizations by using a hybrid business model of integrated cost leadership and differentiation strategy. What makes us pop is a few things. We are fully vested in our clients from top to bottom; an hourly rate does not drive our decisions. It’s also imperative that we believe in the organization’s mission and values and fully understand the culture to provide superior customer service. My diverse background in operations, HR, and customer service offers a competitive advantage to other consulting firms. Finally, our values of Diversity, People, Integrity, Innovation & Improvement, and Customer Service are displayed daily, and the primary reasons we have repeat clients

A big part of your mission seems to be staying true to who you are while ensuring your solutions for companies connect to solutions for greater societal ills. What does this mean to you and what is the value to this approach?

Before George Floyd’s murder, I was on a personal growth journey of self-love and healing. While our country erupted after his murder, I had to have an honest conversation with myself, which was the catalyst to personal accountability and change. The reality at the time was that I caused a lot of harm by staying silent about injustices and systemic racism in our country. I vowed never to do that again. I will only work with clients that share similar values and beliefs, which allows me to give 10,000% of myself to their business. The freedom to show up as my authentic self for my clients brings more creativity, more vital collaboration, and psychological safety. The data clearly shows the value of having an inclusive environment adds to the bottom line. As a business owner, I understand the tremendous pressure on my clients to provide for their employees and remain as stable as possible. I do not take that responsibility lightly, and it allows me to work just as hard for your organization as I do for mine.   I also have accepted that my personality, unique perspective, and untraditional background are not for everyone, and that’s okay. All money isn’t good money, and I fully realize that privilege allows me to make decisions that other business owners may not be able to.

I LOVE that. “All money isn’t good money.” At the end of the day, we need to be able to look ourselves in the mirror. What is one simple thing that HR leaders can do today to make their place of employment a better place to work?

Move from policy driven decisions. Demonstrate emotional intelligence and create psychological safety for employees. Kim Jones, an HR Consultant that has helped me tremendously, once said, “Find the hard way to say yes rather than the easy way to say no.”

Wow. That line is powerful. I need to hang that on my wall! What is one book you’ve read that has influenced your leadership style? 

To be honest my anxiety and ADHD make it a bit more difficult to read (in the traditional way) over the last few years, but I listen to tons of audio books. Two books that have been essential for my growth and leadership style are The Four Agreements, and You Can Heal Your Life. In my opinion being a great leader requires self-awareness, empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability to be a servant for others. I had to work on healing myself, loving myself, and dealing with trauma in the workplace that I experienced so that I could be the best leader, and teammate. I don’t see how you do that if you’re completely broken as a person.

Thank you for being so open and honest. I know your words will be heard by someone who needs to hear them. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

This is such a HARD question. Over the last few years, there are some amazing people that have helped me, and there’s no way I can pick one!  Here’s my list: George Parada, Milly Christmann, Vandy Densmore, Tracie Sponenberg, Michelle Strasburger, Ricklyn Woods, Meghan Beaupre, and Christina Wang.

I know many of those folks! Such a great group of professionals! I know why you couldn’t choose one! What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

Continuing the trend from a Fixed Mindset vs. a Growth Mindset, as well as continuing to manage the intense amount of change. I see so many HR professionals stuck in the past, not evolving with technology, people, and how we do business today – let alone tomorrow! HR professionals that fail to grow and evolve will not be able to provide value to their organizations, or contribute to their growth.

How can people connect with you?

By connecting with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or visiting the KNB consultant website at www.knbsensiblesolutions.com.

What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I love football, whiskey, and tacos. I am extremely passionate about civic engagement – it’s work that sets my soul on fire. I am different and CELEBRATE that. I might be a bit loud, but know when and how to speak with C-Suite (that doesn’t mean I am going to completely suppress who I am). I was a TA for English 1A, and received an A in every damn English class in college, but I cannot use a comma to save my life! I have shit punctuation when writing.

I barely graduated high school – I don’t think I should have – and I went back to college very late in life. I worked three jobs while going to school, but somehow found time to intern for Congressman Jerry McNerney. I graduated cum laude because I learned how to study by discovering that I was an auditory learner. Like many, I have had a hard life. I have been homeless, abused, buried a child, and experienced a significant amount of loss, including myself. I almost lost my life in January 2020.

I always believed that our circumstances don’t define us, and gratitude is the key to happiness. But I went through a very dark, dark time and lost myself. I felt completely overwhelmed and hopeless. It was HARD to pull myself out of that, and I still struggle. We’re not defined by our mistakes or failures. How we overcome them is what shows our character, grit, and fortitude. I want the world to know that peace and happiness do not come from our job titles, professional certifications, cars, homes, etc. It’s found within, and it’s just the beginning, despite what you’ve been through.

Street Level Influencer – Meet Scott McCullough

Too many businesses today are based on driving prices lower by screwing over somebody: pounding suppliers or squeezing employees. We’re the opposite. We put our employees first. If you take care of them, they will take care of your customers better than anybody else.  — Kip Tindell, CEO, Container Store

For the first time in almost 10 months, I bring you the Street Level Influencer series! It’s been a minute, that’s for sure! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

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

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

So far in the series, I have shared stories from:

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

Next up, I share the story of Scott McCullough! I was introduced to Scott by Claire Stroh Petrie. She mentioned my name to him during a conversation, and Scott reached out after reading one of my blog posts! Through our messaging back and forth, Scott and I discovered a lot of mutual interests including philosophy, leadership theory, and coffee!


We also discovered that we had a similar career arc. After successful stints as managers, we both discovered that we enjoyed the HR side of managing folks. So, I gave him some stories about how I successfully transitioned into HR, and he recently shared he got his first FT HR job! YEAH SCOTT!!!!

So without further ado, here is Scott’s story as a Street Level Influencer!!!

1. You just made the transition to your first true HR professional role! Congrats! Tell us about the role and why you wanted to make this transition.

I’ve always considered myself a People Manager & Leader. I’ve worked with coffee for the past 10 years from Barista to Director of Operations. The sheer breadth of work a Retail Manager is responsible for is wild. At my last gig, my team and I were responsible for interviewing, hiring, onboarding, orientation, training & development, succession planning on top of ensuring our shops were running profitable businesses by taking care of their bottom line, people, customers, and communities.

Navigating the Pandemic has not been easy, and doing what is right can be hard; but I started to realize that I focus heavily on the “people” side of the business, which brings me joy, especially influencing leaders and stakeholders on what we need to be doing. Being able to work with a manager on performance management and how maybe they didn’t communicate clearly or well enough on what the real issue is or get deep enough to understand has always been rewarding. It’s untangling a web of thought and actions to bring clarity on how we can be better people and better leaders. There is nothing like working with a manager or supervisor on how to adapt their leadership and communication style to be the most impactful with the entirety of their team, to get to the root-cause of a behavioral or performance problem, and then to find a way or create a plan to improve it.

My new role is formally titled a Manager, People & Culture, but the position functions as an HRBP for a national general contractor. I’ve worked in a scrappy DIY company for a long time and value that freedom to be creative, but I want the experience of working somewhere more established, to see systems and processes, and to work cross-functionally with more departments. Most importantly, I wanted to work alongside fellow HR professionals so I can continue my journey. I am so jazzed to have the chance to partner and support Benefits, Comp, L&D, OD, and the rest of my client groups.

2. What would you advise others making a career transition to HR?

Know what you love and are excited about. Understand that everyone is human and complex. There is so much going on beneath the surface that motivates people and defines their actions that we can’t see. Believe that people want to innately be good, but often lack the resources, support, and knowing what is expected of them. Be willing to have conversations, lead with compassion, and ask questions that seek to understand and give space to just listen. Maybe it’s Humanism, but I feel it’s helped me immensely.

3. How would you define being a “good HR leader?”

Know your people and the teams you work for. Understand what opportunities are present. Know what excites people about their work. Find ways to cater to their strengths and passions. I’ve found that weaknesses are inherently hard to change. It can be demoralizing to not have the growth that is expected of you because you are trying to improve something you just aren’t good at. We learn at a young age that we can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, and it’s a simple lesson we should be mindful of at work and with our people. I’m ‘speaking out of both sides of my mouth’ as we obviously cannot ignore weaknesses as people should be developed but make it a priority to celebrate wins, acknowledge small and large victories with your people, find creative ways to leverage strengths to lift up someone’s weaknesses.

4. So, we’ve established that your background is in the coffee world! As a man who loves coffee, I want to thank EVERY barista out there! It’s hard, demanding work. What were some lessons as a barista that were transferable to your HR career?

Communication for sure, both in setting expectations with customers and within a team. There are so many moving parts behind a line that affect everything. For example, if you don’t deploy team members and provide support at the right moments, the line backs up, the customers get impatient, or worse angry, they take it out on the people working the line, and then all of a sudden morale drops. It taught me that coaching needs to happen in the moment. It cannot wait. When you see an opportunity to address a behavior or performance opportunity, that moment is the right time while it’s fresh. If you wait too long, things start to lose context for all parties.

5. HR is a challenging profession, in that, we likely get too much blame and not enough credit when things go wrong or well, respectively. Have you had a particular story that you’re comfortable sharing to describe how you overcame a challenging situation?

Heading into September 2021, my last gig’s revenue was driven primarily by students. There was an estimate of 50,000 students returning to the city proper at the end of August/beginning of September. With that knowledge I knew that we had to update our application process as we had been running pen and paper for 7 years with no applicant tracking system (ATS). I was forecasting to increase our workforce from 80 – 200 employees (which were pre-pandemic levels), and knew it would be impossible to manage & create a good candidate experience without a system to provide some oversite. We rolled out an ATS at beginning of August and to grow our staffing. By the beginning of September, even though we hired and trained 80 new team members, it just wasn’t enough to meet the demand customers were putting on the business. We were facing burnout and the writing was on the wall that there could be a lot of turnover if we tried to push our employees through that.

I recommended that we close shop for 2 days at each of our 8 retail location as that would allow us to reallocate about 14 shifts per store to the other days of the week to meet the demands of the business, give the level of service our customers needed, and have enough support on the floor to not be understaffed. It gave us the time needed to continue hiring & training so we could appropriately staff across the week and get back to regular hours of operations.

This helped immensely with manager morale as well given the nature of the job and often being on demand to deal with any problems shift leads can’t handle or address on the day-to-day. Given that retail is a commodity, it will probably never change significantly, but I would love to see a truly people first retail operation be closed 2 days a week for managers to disconnect from the demands of their shops and be able to walk away. The nature of the business is on-call. I’ve seen my share of long days and sleepless nights trying to take care of my people. I know I didn’t always meet everyone’s expectations.

6. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

There are so many awesome people to know and connect with it’s hard to choose just one. I would say check out some LinkedIn and Twitter communities as everyone has been welcoming and supportive. #HRSocialHour Twitter chat is a place everyone should by at some point. It is every other Sunday from 6pm to 7pm central time.

To actually answer your question, I would say Claire Petrie. I found her through listening to Honest HR Podcast when I was in a pretty bad place in my career. Work was toxic, and I was struggling with imposter syndrome. I knew something needed to change but wasn’t sure what. She introduced me to so many amazing people and communities and helped get me back on track to believing in myself and seeing my worth.

7. What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

I think in retail it’s going to be training managers on leadership, compassion, flexibility, and adaptability. We can all make sound business decisions in a way that keeps compassion and humanity at the forefront of interactions. They are expected to take care of their people and have a productive workforce, but they are often making decisions that negatively impact the business based on their survival, their own needs, trying to have some semblance of work/life balance, and a lack of proper training and continuous support.

Right now, you see many businesses being forced to change to demands they didn’t expect to be put on their businesses resulting in irregular hours, staffing problems, and product shortages. I think that the former to be embraced, and we need to continue to adapt. I would love to live in a world or see a cafe closed once or twice a week so leadership can truly unplug. Give your people leaders a break and change customers’ expectations of your business, morale can get very low and burnout is a common occurrence. If you are multi-unit, be strategic & intentional. Reroute customers to different stores for mobile orders, partner with a POS that is integrated with a delivery service.

Also, please be patient with customer service workers. The beginning of the pandemic forced a lot of businesses to adapt mobile ordering, delivery services and funky hours to name a few. If you enjoy going into a café to order in person, expect to wait. Most shops seem to operate on a “First-in, First-out” basis. If you order at a register and 10 drinks come in through mobile, odds are your ticket will stay at the back of that line.

8. How can people connect with you?

You can find me on LinkedIn at Scott McCullough – I’m the goofy looking guy out for a hike. I’m also on Twitter @ScottMcBadger, and you can find me at #HRSocialHour Twitter chats when they’re happening!

9. What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I went to music school and something that I miss dearly is being able to play and collaborate with other musicians. So, if anyone’s in Plymouth County, MA – hit me up so we can hang out and jam from time to time. I am also fascinated by dog training. One of my rescue pups and I do a scent work class. She has anxiety and getting to see her do what she was made to do, smell smells, makes me so happy.

Thích Nhất Hạnh and Lessons for HR Professionals

Beautiful painting of Thích Nhất Hạnh by TriDung Vo (http://www.tridungvo.com/)

“Tomorrow, I will continue to be. But you will have to be very attentive to see me. I will be a flower, or a leaf. I will be in these forms, and I will say hello to you. If you are attentive enough, you will recognize me, and you may greet me. I will be very happy.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but sometime nearly a decade ago, maybe longer, I came across a book that helped me begin a journey towards a clearer more peaceful way to live. This book helped me begin my walk towards and with mindfulness.

Not the “cliché” mindfulness that has become a buzzword in many business circles, but a mindfulness of sincerity, a mindfulness of compassion – for the world around us and within us.

The book is titled Living Buddha, Living Christ, and its author is someone you may not have heard of, but someone you should get to know.

Thích Nhất Hạnh was born in 1926 in rural Vietnam. He became dedicated to Buddhism from an early age, entered the monastery, and was eventually ordained a monk. Once ordained, Thay, as his followers call him, Vietnamese for “teacher,” grew to become a peace activist and outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as earning him exile from his homeland. He eventually ended up in France and formed Plum Village, a Buddhist, mindfulness community. He authored dozens of bestselling books, appeared on Oprah, and became a worldwide leader for peace.

Thích Nhất Hạnh with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during a peace summit in the late 1960s.

On January 22, 2022, Thích Nhất Hạnh passed away at the age of 95. I felt a great deal of sadness. I feel as though Thích Nhất Hạnh was a member of my family. His lessons deeply influenced my in ways that remain indescribable. If anyone could articulate my innerbeing in ways that are understandable, it would be the man known as Thay. His articulation of obscure and difficult knowledge was nothing short of poetic.

Although those influenced and touched by Thích Nhất Hạnh mourn, he himself would likely want them to know he isn’t truly gone. He is simply moved on to the next part of his journey.

“I am a continuation like the rain is the continuation of the cloud.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

What began with Living Buddha, Living Christ led me to other works from the gentle monk. Everything he wrote was poetry – a catalogue of understanding, enlightenment, kindness. All of his works lead me to a better understanding of myself, of the world, and of beyond.

It also, as all good reading should, taught me how to be a better HR leader and person in general. Professional inspiration can be found in places we never thought to look if only we open our eyes to what is in front of us, removing the cataracts that blind us.

As a way to pay tribute to a man who inspired me, here is a list of ideas from Thích Nhất Hạnh that made me a better person and HR professional. I hope they help you find peace, encouragement, and success, as they have me.

Mindfulness: The first time I heard of the idea of mindfulness was in Living Buddha, Living Christ. In the book, Thích Nhất Hạnh defines mindfulness as “the energy to be here and to witness deeply everything that happens in the present moment, aware of what is going on within and without.” The power of this concept is someone’s own self-mastery. When someone is a master of the moment, they increase their ability to think, to act, to live on another level. No obsessing over the past that doesn’t exist, no worrying about a future scenario that hasn’t happened, just understanding what’s going on right now – the only time that truly exists.

Thích Nhất Hạnh practiced calligraphy as a meditative practice.

Mindful breathing: A root of a lot of meditative practices is focusing on the breath. “When I am breathing in, I know I am breathing in.” Sounds easy. It’s not. Think about it. Breathing is the one thing humans do without thinking. It’s so natural that is happens spontaneously and also automatically. We are so often completely unaware we are doing it. Learning to “know” that you are breathing is a gateway to truly “knowing” all the other things you do on autopilot. This is powerful but ever so challenging. Our minds are designed to think, and thinking they do! Most of the time without our knowing it – just like our breathing! Knowing that you our breathing can be a step to knowing that you are thinking and therefore a step to knowing a universe of action and possibility!

Tolerance and Acceptance: The entire book Living Buddha, Living Christ is written in a way that projects the author’s love and kindness towards people of other faiths. A Buddhist monk writing about all the positive aspects of a religion that is not his own, never once trying to convince any reader that his religion is superior – or that any religion for that matter is superior! It’s not preachy. It’s not judgmental. It’s just pure poetic kindness, which is based on accepting others as they are. Today, we need this more than ever. Things that divide us are arbitrary and false. The point of the writing is to open people’s minds to our contemplativeness.

Peace and Nonviolence: Conflict is inevitable. Violence, however, isn’t. I used to think of violence in terms of physicality. I have come to believe that violence is much more than that. Violence can be thought of as doing any act that harms another person, creature, or our world, which is in itself a living ecosystem. Making fun of someone. Not taking your pet to the vet. Littering. All these actions can be thought of as violence.

Violence is never far. It is possible to identify the seeds of violence in our everyday thoughts, speech, and actions. We can find these seeds in our own minds, in our attitudes, and in our fears and anxieties about ourselves and others. Thinking itself can be violent, and violent thoughts can lead us to speak and act violently. In this way, the violence in our minds manifests in the world.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

This perspective helped me realize that I can be a better person. I have been a violent man in many ways, and I can do better. I’ve come to believe that the best way to act is in the antithesis of violence – compassion. We must be able to transform our violence and fear into something beautiful. Acting compassionately is acting nonviolently.

The Interconnectedness of Nature: Separateness is an illusion. Everything is connected and part of the same whole. When you eat your cereal in the morning, you are not eating little crunchy bits of goodness. You are eating the sun, the clouds, the rain. You are eating the earth, which produced the metal for the spoon. You are eating the grass that the cow ate, which produced your milk. Or, you are eating the soil from which the almonds grew that produced your almond milk. Everything is connected. Nothing exists without the other pieces. When we do harm to one, we do harm to all. Think about the workplace in such terms! No one can exist without the person next to them, or the coworker they do not see nor have met.

Engaged Buddhism: Is a concept created and purported by the Thay. It was habit for many Buddhist monks to stay out of society and not get involved on a larger level. Thích Nhất Hạnh looked to change this by applying the teachings of Buddhism to social life in order to bring about social change, including relieving or eliminating economic suffering and social injustice. These teachings are aligned with the Stoic value of living in the world, with the world, and amongst the world. Thay believed that there was no reason to obtain enlightenment if it didn’t make the world a better place, and all people deserved opportunities for betterment. To do this, one must be educated; one must be with others, not apart. We must be open to the experiences of other people and do our part to relieve their suffering. I can think of few other beliefs that HR leaders should embrace. We need to be with our folks. We need to support our folks. We need to relieve their suffering. Only then can HR move beyond into a better place in the hearts and minds of our people.

No mud, no lotus: The first Buddhist truth is that there is suffering in the world. Thích Nhất Hạnh taught me that suffering can serve a purpose. Lotus flowers are considered one of the most beautiful plants that nature gives us. Lotus flowers cannot bloom without mud. In the same way, we cannot become who we were meant to be unless we accept our suffering and look to it in ways that helps us. We need to be embracing of our experiences and our powerful emotions. We need to acknowledge them, not fight them, or bury them, or ignore them. That doesn’t relieve our suffering; it only prolongs it, or enlarges it, or pushes it onto other people. Looking into our suffering helps us open up and see things that make us better. So, suffering is something we need. Without it we cannot grow.

Impermanence: Suffering, while necessary, is unpleasant. While we need it, we also need happiness and enjoyment. Our emotions are a complex web of interconnection that make us who we are. All of it is impermanent. Our suffering will not last. Our happiness will not last. Being open and welcoming to all we feel and experience – good, bad, indifferent – will help us realize that change is good and necessary. It’s the only constant in life. Being accepting of this will increase our ability to be resilient and adaptable.

Smile, and know you are smiling. Your smile can bring joy to you, and in turn, bring joy to others. Happiness is simple if we know how to live in a way that allows us to be free. RIP Thay. The next time I see a leaf fall from the oak tree in my backyard, I will smile and greet you by saying thank you for everything.

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.

—————————————————————————————————————–

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!