Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Kristy Freewalt

“A recruiter should be viewed as a business partner, someone who is critical to the success of the business.” – Mathew Caldwell


In a recent blog post, I wrote about the power of the Street Level Influencer. I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us! We just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So, I wanted to put the spotlight on some HR pros in my network who have provided me with life giving energy recently! My next few blog posts will be a series where I get to share stories of some amazing individuals that you should connect with!

I continue this series by introducing you to Kristy Freewalt. I first met Kristy a while back as I was exploring the possibility of making a career transition. She reached out to me and had me come in for a sit down. It my first time sitting with a recruiter, and she couldn’t have made the “interview” more comfortable! She is so warm and accommodating. I felt very good in her sphere of influence!

Kristy is an awesome recruiter! She truly cares about the people she works with. She wants to find candidates the best possible match. Some recruiters just want to place bodies, regardless of fit or match. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but this isn’t Kristy’s philosophy. She wants to place people in positions that make them happy and best fit with the organization for future success. That’s so admirable to me. In the end, she didn’t end up placing me, but I found a friend in the process. To me, that’s more important.

I asked Kristy some questions, and this is what she had to say!

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work at Ajilon. I am an Executive Recruiter for Human Resource and Office Mid- to Executive level roles.

  1. What do you like about HR that keeps you in the profession?

I began my career in mental health because I wanted to help improve the lives of others.  Immediately after college, I began working for DuPage County Health Department (suburbs of Chicago) as a caseworker for severely mentally ill adults. I would help my clients get the benefits they desperately needed (Medicaid, Social Security Disability, food pantry assistance, temporary housing etc). I eventually realized that the parts of my job that felt more like HR work, were the aspects that I enjoyed the most. Other areas of my role became stressful and at times dangerous. I chose to leave that field after a long maternity leave and transition to HR.   After graduating from Northwestern in their HR program, I began interviewing potential undergrads for the Alumni Admissions Counsel. I absolutely loved it! I still do that part time and have transitioned to full time Executive Recruiting. I love working for Ajilon because they covet the long- term relationship with our candidates and clients. I’m thankful because I still feel like I can improve the lives of others but in a different way. It is extremely rewarding to help someone find a great new opportunity, leave a toxic job, or to help an HR department to find the perfect fit for their team so they aren’t as over worked or overstressed! My job is different every single day and every single day I get the opportunity to meet great people!

  1. What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

My biggest HR success happened when I wasn’t technically in HR. While working for DuPage County, I had a client who was just 20 years old. He had recently gotten kicked out of a Division 1 school where he played a sport on scholarship. He had began having severe symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia and had been hospitalized. His parents were devastated and had no idea how to care for him after he left the hospital. He came to live at the group home that I managed at the time. I advocated for his care and linked him to the services he needed to regain his independence. We had to teach him how to navigate life as an adult with his mental illness.  He was eventually able to return to college and has a successful career in finance. We touch base from time to time and he has thanked me for not giving up on him.

  1. What was your greatest HR failure? What did it teach you?

My biggest failure in HR is anytime I am not successful in effectively representing my candidates to hiring managers. If there is something on their resume that may be a turnoff to potential employers such as too much movement between jobs, a big gap in employment, career changes etc.  I need to advocate for my candidate and help the hiring manager see past that. I feel that resumes in general are so ineffective in portraying an individual’s potential. I know that some of my candidates would be such an asset to a company if they were just given a chance to meet them in person. As a society we are taught to not judge a book by its cover but making a 30 second decision to dismiss a person based on a 1- page piece of paper in my opinion is an even bigger injustice. I know that after a 16- year maternity leave, I didn’t look that great on paper either. I am grateful that someone took a chance on me. I feel like I fail every time I don’t earn that opportunity for my candidates.

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

Someone in the HR world that I want everyone to know about is one of the candidates that I was thinking of when I wrote the answer to the previous question. Donna Eliades is a dedicated HR leader that spent over 12 years at one company and built the HR department from the ground up. She then moved to a smaller company and built another HR dept from scratch.  After the structure of the dept was built, she felt that the company was so small, they didn’t truly need an HR person. She loves to work hard and a work a lot!  She was recruited out of that company to a fast-paced role that she was looking for. At that time, she realized it was a toxic work environment and eventually left the company. I now present her resume for roles and hiring managers say “she’s too jumpy.” I feel that is absurd considering she spent 12+ years with one employer and had some bad luck after that. They just see the last two moves and make a split- second judgement on her despite the fact that she has excellent references, a successful established career and a phenomenal work ethic.  So, if anyone out there in the HR world would like to meet Donna, let me know. 😊

  1. How can people contact you?

I am always available to connect! I love talking and meeting anyone in the HR world and welcome a call/email/linked- in message, Anything! My LinkedIn profile is Reach out and connect!




Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Kirk Hamsher

Yes, in all my research, the greatest leaders looked inward and were able to tell a good story with authenticity and passion.” – Deepak Chopra

Kirk Hamsher: A Street Level Influencer, Guitar Hero, and all around genuine teacher!

In my last blog post, I wrote about the power of the Street Level Influencer. I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us! We just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So, I wanted to put the spotlight on some HR pros in my network who have provided me with life giving energy recently! My next few blog posts will be a series where I get to share stories of some amazing individuals that you should connect with!

I begin this series by introducing you to Kirk Hamsher. I first met Kirk around 2016. I was working with Kishwaukee College on providing my workforce a training on customer service. The Kishwaukee College rep gave me Kirk’s info. I could not have been more impressed with Kirk’s training, and neither could my staff! His reviews were out of control GREAT! He was engaging, entertaining, impactful, and most of all, his training left a lasting impression. My staff still talk about Kirk and his class three years later!

Fortunately, Kirk and I have stayed in touch, and we’ve had several other opportunities to work together since. Most recently, Kirk provided another training at my agency and he spoke to the Kishwaukee Association of Human Resources (KAHR). The thing I like most about Kirk is how genuine he is! He oozes kindness, and you can tell he genuinely cares about providing his clients with life changing, meaningful training. He wants each individual to leave a training a better person, and I can say that knowing Kirk has helped me become a better person! I just wish he could teach me to play guitar! He’s not only a genuine person, but a genuine guitar hero – Stevie Ray Vaughan type of skills!

Without further adieu, I asked Kirk some questions, and this is what he had to say!

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently own and operate a training & consulting company (KJSH Training & Consulting LLC).  We deliver an array of training programs from our menu, facilitate and moderate organizational sessions, create organizational business solutions and offer keynotes for special events.  I’m also Co-founder of Citizen University, an organization dedicated to helping kids become life-ready.  We do this by providing rich, life-skills curricula for mentoring organizations.  We also deliver workshops to enhance mentoring skills and offer an array of mentoring-related instruments and tools.

  1. What do you like about HR that keeps you in the profession?

I have passion around helping individuals, groups, and organizations grow in ways that are meaningful to them.  Helping to develop people is exciting when you see how it helps them blossom in both professional and personal pursuits.  You can enhance effectiveness and day-to-day satisfaction as individuals pursue work and life.  I also learn a great deal from the people and organizations I work with.  As a life-long learner, I really value this aspect of my work.

  1. What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

My greatest HR success was each time an individual, group, or organization shared how I was genuinely helping them become more effective or satisfied in their work/life experiences.  This is always very gratifying as it indicates I provoked something within them that compelled them to apply what I had shared.  My main goal is provocation – moving people in such a way that they will use new or modified approaches to work or life.

  1. What was your greatest HR failure? What did it teach you?

My greatest failure was staying – for too long – in situations after I knew they were not healthy or right for me.  Whether the delay was a result of fear of change, lack of self-confidence or feeling ‘trapped’ in the situation, delaying worked against my best interests.  I’m also sure I was not serving others as effectively as I should have been by remaining in these situations.  When not satisfied, I learned to find a better fit more quickly, to pursue habits and practices that establish and sustain my self-confidence, to become more comfortable with risk and to give greater credence to my instincts or gut responses.  I have become more successful and satisfied – in both my professional and personal life – based on this learning.

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

Andy Kaufman.  He is an extremely gifted consultant – who offers development programs in an array of areas such as leadership and project management.  He has helped me in meaningful, kind and life-giving ways since I started my consulting business sixteen years ago.  As fabulous as Andy is as a consultant, author and speaker, he’s an even better human being.  He is one of the kindest and most compassionate people I’ve ever met.  Andy can be reached at: (email); (website); (twitter) @Andy_Kaufman.

  1. How can people contact you?

I can be contacted by: (email) or (cell phone) 815-245-6540.

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

One of my favorite hobbies in life is sports.  At this stage of my life, it’s watching sports.  I especially enjoy taking in football, basketball and baseball games.  When I was twelve years old, my dad and I attended Super Bowl III.  All week long, as seventeen-point underdogs, Joe Namath was predicting (and guaranteeing) a win for his team (New York Jets).  It turns out that Namath was right and they beat the Baltimore Colts.  Some experts say this was the biggest, most important Super Bowl ever.  What a thrill to be there!  I also played air hockey with Dick Butkus (Hall of Fame Chicago Bear), one block from my house, and have pictures of it.  That day, my dad took Butkus for a motor scooter ride around our block and our town of Fox Lake.  For a sports nut, these are cherished, life-long memories!

Street Level Influencers: HR Superstars Behind the Scenes!


 “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Wishing is not enough; we must do.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

In a recent HR Philosopher post, I discuss the importance and power of a “street level influencer.”

I came up with the idea after remembering the concept of a “street level bureaucrat.” The term was coined by Michael Lipsky, a public policy researcher and academic. Essentially, Lipsky argued that “policy implementation in the end comes down to the people who actually implement it.”

Let me explain. People at the top make the rules, right? The City Council sets policy, which is implemented by the bureaucrat. If City Council passes an ordinance that a particular stretch of road is 35 MPH, then it is the policy of the city that anyone going over that speed limit should be duly ticketed. However, what if the police officer (the street level bureaucrat) decided to NOT uphold that policy? Then what becomes policy is whatever that police officer is willing to uphold. Therefore, who has the real power over policy, the City Council or the police officer?

Here’s the classic example that I was taught in school. Let’s say Officer Barbrady wakes up on a fine sunny morning! He gets up to go have breakfast, and his kids are being well behaved and his dog brought him his morning newspaper! Officer Barbrady’s wife made his favorite breakfast, and he’s on top of the world! While on his shift, he sees you driving 40 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. He thinks to himself, “well, it’s only 5 MPH over the limit. I’ll let it go! All is well.” In effect he decided that the policy is 40 MPH on that stretch of road. You’re lucky and $110 plus court fees richer.

Flash forward a week later, and Officer Barbrady wakes up with a splitting headache due to the rain. His kids are being little hellions, and his dog ate the morning newspaper after peeing on it. His wife had to leave for work earlier than expected, so Officer Barbrady burned his toast and slipped on the dog pee. He goes to work really pissed off, and sees you going 36 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. He pulls you over, reads you the riot act, and gives you a huge ticket. Oh, and he keeps your driver’s license, which means you HAVE to go to court to get it back! Well, Officer Barbrady REALLY decided what policy was that day. Your ass was grass and he was smoking it! (Which is legal in your state now, but I digress).

See what Lipsky is arguing? Take academic policy discussion out of it. At its basic core, street level bureaucracy is about influence. Those on the street level are the ones who offer up the greatest influence over our day-to-day lives, not the City Council.

This made me think. The term “influencer” has entered our lexicon over the past decade or so due, in large part, to the rise of social media. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, an influencer is someone “who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with.”

In HR, there are so many engaging influencers worth following. I could name so many, but a quick Google search of “Top HR Influencers” yields the following links here, here, and here.

These individuals are well known, well followed. Their influence is pretty established. I’ve even had the pleasure and incredible luck of meeting some of them.

However, just like the City Council, these “high level” influencers, who are well known and well respected, aren’t the only ones “setting policy.” Often times, we rely more so on those we can readily contact, those who are “on the street” with us. Our colleagues in our network, in our town, in our local HR group.

Equally important to the equation are the street level influencers! Those HR pros who aren’t well known, yet are in the trenches every day making a huge difference in the HR industry. These people are in your networks. They aren’t on any lists, per say; these influencers are more low key, yet they are working diligently to coach their staff, addressing the challenges of their CEOs, working to source and place the right candidates, training groups on the importance of conflict resolution, and so much more! I call these individuals “street level influencers.” They’re right in front of us if we know where to look.

They offer so much, and I want you to know some of them!

So, over the next few blog posts, I’ve asked some amazing HR pros who have directly influenced me if they’d allow me to share their stories. Thankfully, many of them said yes! More to come…

Happy HR Professionals Day! Protect Your Inner Citadel

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“Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

September 26th is HR Professionals Day! I am a proud HR professional, and want to share some quick thoughts – Jack Handey style!

This week I read the amazing Kyra Matkovich’s HR Shenanigans Blog post, HR Chose Me. Kyra is a prolific writer. Her style and prose are powerful and demanding of our full attention. This paragraph in particular struck me:

It isn’t a weakness to choose to leave when you know your environment is toxic (abusive).  You demonstrate a strength of character when you know your self worth and capabilities, and know when you are limited in your ability to apply those capabilities because of something outside of your control. I’m not suggesting to shift blame. (It’s important to own your part and what you’re contributing – positive and negative.) What I’m saying is if you know you can’t thrive in your current work situation, maybe it’s time to consider another opportunity where you’re able to flourish.

I identify with this logic because it’s relatable. How many of us get up every day for the “drudgery” of work? “They call work ‘work’ for a reason” is the saying, right? I ask, why?! Why does work HAVE to suck? Why can’t work be a fun place? Why can’t we have fun at work? Why can’t we, GASP, enjoy ourselves?

What’s the disconnect?

Well, a lot of things. Bad bosses, unaccountable managers, lazy coworkers, all breed toxicity. It’s toxic because it affects others, not just the host. Remember Captain Planet, and his incredibly amazing 90s theme song? (He’s our hero.) Whenever he had toxic pollution touch him, all his powers left him and he became weak and powerless. Similarly, this is how toxic workplaces affect those who come into contact with its sliming ooze and gunk. I imagine Captain Planet was a walking workers comp nightmare, but I digress.

But does negativity always have to affect us? The Dalai Lama (not llama) once said “Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” He’s right. We cannot control what other people do. We cannot make someone act with kindness and integrity. We cannot control how someone responds to a situation. The only thing we can control is our own reaction and perceptions, so we shouldn’t let others’ behaviors affect how we see ourselves and how we behave towards ourselves and others.

Therein is the key, however difficult it is to achieve. Control our perceptions and act according to what is right.

As HR professionals we are uniquely situated within our organizations to behave in a way that is positive, life giving, empathetic, and powerful. Uniquely situated because HR affects every single employee in the organization in some way. Not every department can say that (except maybe finance). We can be the example. By controlling our own perceptions, we can mindfully choose how to behave in any situation by doing the right thing. We can thrive in the face of toxic garbage.

How? Where a disconnect exists, create a connection.

  • If an office curmudgeon doesn’t say hi to anyone, say hi to the office curmudgeon!
  • If the manager is ignoring the staff, go up to the manager and strike up a conversation!
  • If a supervisor and a subordinate just aren’t clicking, talk to them each and see if you can build a bridge with them.
  • If there seems to be a lack of appreciation for a coworker, do something that showcases your gratitude!

These things seem little, and they are, to a point, because the acts themselves are small, but the physical act and conscience effort to do them take a lot of bravery and fortitude! That’s the point. A lot of little things eventually become big things over time – especially because they’re built on a foundation of bravery. Will doing the little things erase all the toxic negativity? If done by yourself, likely no, but by controlling yourself and your own actions you can create an internal atmosphere that can be more resistant to toxicity. Remember, others cannot force you to feel anything. Feelings come from within, and every person can control them. Stoics called this “the inner citadel.”

Don’t let the behaviors and attitudes of other people deteriorate your own self-worth or influence you in a negative way. The only time two negatives make a positive is in math, and I hate math!

However, even the most relentlessly positive person must admit, this is challenging and difficult. But like Kyra said, HR is a difficult field, not for the weak willed. Sometimes, citadels can become cracked from the pressure. Babylon, Jericho, Rome, Constantinople, Baghdad – they’ve all fallen at some point in history due to pressures that became insurmountable. If over time, the toxic culture begins to wear on you to the point that the negativity breaks you, even a little, then absolutely exercise your control to begin job searching! Your job isn’t a life sentence!

I say all this as a quick “top of the head” type writing session. HR professionals are more powerful than we sometimes realize. Use that power for good – always good. Give back to our employees. Give back to our peers. Give back to our profession. Represent HR in such a manner that in the future another up and coming Rockstar will say, “HR chose me” because of how kind they were treated by his or her contemporaries.

Happy HR Professionals Day to all the dedicated, positive, kind HR pros out there! Because of you, I am proud to be in this profession! I hope you all feel the same!

The Brightest Star

The darkest nights produce the brightest stars. — John Green


I first spoke to her in July 2018. I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet her a month prior at SHRM Conference 2018, but I had heard nothing but positive things about her. I needed help, so I emailed her. She replied, and I could read the enthusiasm in her email. We set up a phone call, and a few days later, we spoke for the first time.

“Hi, Paul, this is Callie. It’s so awesome to talk with you finally!” She helped me with my challenge, and a friendship was born.

A few months later, I got to meet Callie in person for the first time. The #StatelineCrew met at Hofbräuhaus Chicago for our second ever meeting. Mary Williams and I got their first. As we were catching up, Callie came in. She walked right up to me and gave me a hug. It was natural. No awkward first hugs for Callie. We sat together on the German bierhall style benches. We conversed. We broke pretzels. We clinked Biersteins. Most importantly, we laughed.

We did it again in February 2019, only this time in her hometown of Kenosha, WI. Her and I sat together and talked. She had a Bloody Mary, and followed it with a beer chaser – a common WI tradition!

As other members of the #StatelineCrew talked, Callie and I had an awesome one-on-one. She told me about some of her work challenges and how she was overcoming them. We discussed some of the happenings at SHRM National, and she told me she got wind of who was being booked as the Conference entertainment! A true professional, she wouldn’t budge on spilling the beans – even when I offered to buy her another Bloody Mary and chaser! I even offered to throw in beer battered cheese curds to sweeten the pot. She wouldn’t budge. I respected the hell outta that. (It ended up being Lionel Ritchie. I guessed Brittney Spears or Lady Gaga. Close, Paul. Oh, so close.)

A few weeks or so after that #StatelineCrew meet up, I got a Twitter DM from Mary Kaylor asking me if I’d like to join the SHRM Blogger Team for 2019. I was so excited and taken aback! ME?!?! Awesome sauce! But why me? I hadn’t even met Mary at this point, so how did she know who I was? Mary told me that Callie reached out to her and told her that I’d be a great addition to the team.

I messaged Callie: I got an amazing DM from Mary today. You recommended me to be a #SHRM19 blogger! I am so humbled you thought about me. You totally made my day, Callie!!! Thank you.”

Callie replied, in her trademark fashion: “Don’t mess this up!” 😊

Since then, we met at other #StatelineCrew meet ups. We emailed. We interacted on social media. We met at Illinois SHRM Leadership Conference. Callie presented to the Kishwaukee Association of Human Resources in Sycamore, IL. (She blew the roof off the house).

Our last in person meeting was at SHRM Conference in Las Vegas. We were at the Midwest Chapters Social Meetup. Callie and I were chatting one-on-one. She mentioned she was not feeling well. She was tired and didn’t know why. I told her I could tell something wasn’t right. I then confided in her something. I wanted her to know. She looked me in the eye, and I won’t forget what she told me. It was comforting. We hugged, and we went our separate ways socializing.

We didn’t see each other again. I won’t forget the night she messaged me to tell me about her diagnosis. I was gob smacked – helpless, other than offering words of encouragement, what could I do? What should I do? There was nothing to do other than that – be a friend. It’s what she needed.

I DM’ed her words of encouragement. I texted. I sent her a birthday card. She sent me a thank you card that I hung on the fridge. It won’t leave the fridge for a while.

The last communication I received from her was a text letting me know her fight was coming to an end. I thought about her family. I was heartbroken, but her family, my God, I felt for her and for them.

Callie was my friend, and now she’s gone to the eternity to which we all must enter. I will miss her. However, her influence will remain. A quick search on social media proves her influence was strong, and it will be a lasting influence.

Like the brightest stars, she didn’t last as long as others, but she burned brighter, and that is important to remember.

The last message I sent to Callie is below. I want to share it. I want people to know how important she was to the world. I want people to know that she was important, impactful, and inspiring. Callie was someone who has touched my life in ways she may never know, but if others know, then her spirt can live on. She deserves to live on in any way life will allow.

Callie, we’ve only known each other for a little over a year or so. Despite this, you’ve made a powerful impact on my life. You may not realize how important and meaningful you’ve been in my world. I want you to know that I’m so very thankful for our time together. Thank you for being there for me – especially in moments you weren’t likely aware that you were. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your world. I’m honored you let me in.

HR, Kindness, and Being a Street Level Influencer

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” – Seneca


I was scrolling through LinkedIn the other day when I saw a video of a young kid being cheered on by his classmates when attempting to break a wooden plank with a karate kick.

He kept failing. As the child struggled, his team around him began to cheer him on. He kept failing. His team began to chant his name. He again failed. His team began to chant his name louder. He then eventually broke through, and a loud cheer went out as his team piled on him in celebration!

It was really awesome to see. It was beautiful, really. These kids instinctually rallied around their guy, and celebrated as he succeeded. It was wholesome altruistic joy!

Then I began to think about it. Why was this scene so awesome? Should it be? Is it awesome because it’s seemingly rare? We get choked up because this childlike innocence inevitably evaporates the minute the “real world” (whatever that means) begins to break that innocence.

It isn’t a new question. Boiled down to it, it’s asking essentially, are people naturally good or naturally bad? It’s a question as old as human thought.

Are people naturally inclined to cheer for one another and lift each other up when they witness someone fall, or are people naturally inclined to tear one other apart when they’re down?

Maybe the answer is more complicated, but again, I ask, should it be?

I think about this question and its implications in HR. The field has so many positive, good natured people in it! I’ve met so many, and continue meeting many others. These HR folks are the ones that stand up and cheer when employees finally break through their perceived limits to shatter a wooden plank. These HR practitioners truly care about all employees and helping to put them in positions to succeed.

For HR to be truly respected as an organizational function – strategic, tactically, transitional, or otherwise – the answer is simple. HR professionals cannot afford to be thought of as anything but naturally good. HR professionals must work harder than others to ensure that employees turn to us with confidence.

I don’t think we’re there yet.

When I was walking through the Las Vegas airport following SHRM National Conference, I was wearing some free swag. My shirt said “What Happens in Vegas Gets Reported to HR.” I thought it was cleaver and funny – at least initially.

As I walked through the airport, I felt many eyes gravitate towards me. A few people stopped me and said,

“That’s too good!”

“Man, that’s true!”

“Ain’t that the truth! Don’t go to HR!”

I felt slightly embarrassed, admittedly. I was trying to have some fun with my profession, but instead, I was bringing some negativity to it.

These interactions, however seemingly small, can’t be taken lightly. At least I didn’t take them lightly. There is still a prevailing stigma that HR isn’t there to help people. HR is there to uphold “the law,” keep employees in their place, or mess up their open enrollment process.

This should obviously not be interpreted as universal! There are PLENTY of examples of HR departments that rise to the occasion – plenty that go above and beyond to bridge relationships, build trust, and act justly.

However, maybe not enough?

Regardless, the tide has been turning for a while. With high profile HR influencers making waves and disrupting the fabric of the industry, HR is finally being seen as a strategic necessity by many in the C-Suite.

HR influencers have helped lead the way at a global level, but equally important – some could argue more important – is that HR pros at the street level need to become influencers as well. They need to become influencers at the street level. You don’t need to be on any grand list to make a difference! To make a difference in one person’s life is easier than you think!

Simply notice when they need you, and be there for them – be there for them at the moment when they need you the most. All you need to do is smile at an employee who hasn’t been smiled at in a while. Take a selfie with an employee and ask to put it in the employee newsletter as a shout out! Listen to them – really listen to them! Be kind, oh for Heaven’s sake be kind.

All it takes is an uncompromising attitude of being relentlessly kind! You may not be able to control the attitudes of a cruel CEO, the benefit packages that don’t seem generous enough, or the overall morale of the workplace. But you can ALWAYS control your own actions and attitude. So, take that power within and use it to light the world around you.

None of these ideas are new, I know, but sometimes we need reminders! It’s why my office is littered with post-it-notes! The next time you see an employee trying to break a wooden plank, for the love of God STOP THEM! You don’t need a worker’s comp case on your hands!

But then, ask them what they need, and feverishly try to help them achieve it.

Above all, be kind; be there for your people; be HR.

The Importance of Spontaneity in D&I

A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves. – Lao Tzu


Indianapolis is a hidden gem, I believe. When discussing up and coming or unique urban centers, I rarely hear people discuss Indy. It has everything you’d want in an urban area! Food, entertainment, craft beer, and reasonable cost of living. Most of all, it has examples of diversity and inclusion in spades — especially for a Midwestern city in a state not necessarily known for D&I.

My in-laws live in the Holy Cross Neighborhood of Indy, which is a historic neighborhood on the near eastside of the city’s downtown.

On a recent visit, I wanted some fresh air, so I decided to go for a walk around the block. I observed quite a bit of activity. The neighborhood is being heavily gentrified, but in a unique way. Gentrification generally has a connotation of wealthy (mostly white) individuals rebuilding neighborhoods at the expense of poor (mostly minority) individuals who are essentially kicked out.

As I walked around, I didn’t see a lot of gentrification in those terms, though. Yes, I saw a massive rebuilding of a once runned down neighborhood for sure. Home after home was being remodeled and rebuilt with the intent of leasing or flipping, I imagine. I saw gentrification, but it didn’t look how it “should.”

What I saw was a beautifully eclectic intersection of America. I saw several white families working on rebuilding their homes and/or investments. I saw several black families working on rebuilding their homes and/or investments. I saw several Hispanic families rebuilding their homes and/or investments. They were all neighbors – doing this work next to one another.

I saw several gay couples mowing their lawns and or doing yard work. I saw a woman wearing a hijab getting her mail with a toddler playing in the front yard. I saw American flags, gay pride flag, flags of countries I didn’t recognize, Indy flags, Colts football flags (to this Bears fan’s dismay), and dozens of “All Are Welcome Here” lawn signs – written in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

I saw people of all colors jogging through the neighborhood. Amid the backdrop noises of hammers pounding nails and lawnmowers mowing grass, I saw, heard, and felt harmony and peace.


While being a positive place on the surface, Holy Cross is not paradise. As I was waking, I saw a black family being visited by an Indianapolis Police squad car. A person who looked like the father (or possibly the head of the household) was using his phone to video the police from the front porch. This is a scene that likely plays out all over America every day. Nothing happened that I saw, thankfully, and the police drove away. But the man wasn’t recording it for no reason.

I saw several homeless sleeping on a park bench or walking with all their worldly possessions in their torn and disheveled backpacks. I saw grimy needles next to a dumpster. I don’t want to assume why the needles were there. I don’t know for sure. All I know is I saw them laying next to a home with beautiful bushes and flowers springing up through the mud below.

Holy Cross isn’t perfect. Yet, despite its imperfections, or maybe because of them, there is clearly something interesting going on in this Midwestern neighborhood in the heart of Indiana. Indianapolis bills itself as the “Crossroads of America.” Holy Cross is an intersection of so much diversity and, I’d argue, inclusion! It’s beautiful to see, warts and all.

Holy Cross is both intentional and spontaneous. Intentional because all gentrification is on purpose. Clearly, the residents of this neighborhood are acting purposefully in their daily routines and construction projects. Spontaneous because there seems to be no pattern to why or how this gentrification is happening. There’s no uniformity in how anything is happening, and it’s beautiful to see. People of all backgrounds, colors, races, nationalities are working side-by-side to reinvest in a beautiful neighborhood.

Much like the diversity and inclusion in Holy Cross, diversity and inclusion in our workplaces needs to be intentional, yet we cannot discount the power of spontaneity.

HR needs to advocate for D&I as an organizational priority. It needs to set the tone by explaining expectations of interactions and behaviors. It needs to set goals and measure them. All these acts are intentional. Yet, that’s where it should end. Give the direction, and then get out of people’s way. Let employees be spontaneous in their dealings with one another.

Spontaneity shouldn’t be feared in the D&I context. If it is, then why hire people if you can’t trust them to do the right thing once you set the tone?

Spontaneity allows groups to figure out on their own how to mesh and jive. It allows people to work together on their own terms in ways others from above wouldn’t have thought of or considered. It allows for an organic growth of mutual understanding and adaptability. And, just as importantly, if not most importantly, it allows for true ownership from the groups involved. They can look at their shared results that they did it on their own with each others help, not from help of the boss who “forced” D&I onto the masses.

That type of positive development cannot come from above. It cannot be dictated.

Now, spontaneity can sometimes yield negative results – sure. People are messy and sometimes don’t act in accordance with what is correct or appropriate.

However, in the workplace, that’s where HR steps in to kindly and gently (in best case scenarios) or forcefully and strictly (in worst case scenarios) guide staff back in the right direction. D&I is something we need to tend to regularly, like rebuilding a home. Yet, we cannot discount that the people in that home know what’s best at times, not those walking past observing the world through a different pair of glasses.

A key to successful D&I initiatives is acceptance and understanding of those involved. That can only come through working one on one and living side by side. Allow people to do that and good things can happen. Trust and let go. People generally do the right thing, and if they don’t, use the system to step in and help them see the error of their ways.

I Used to Wear My Shirt in the Pool: Don’t Let Others Steal Your Self-Worth

What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create. – Buddha


Quick side note: In my last #HRPhilosopher blog post, I discussed one of my favorite bands ever, Killswitch Engage. Their new album dropped yesterday, and if you’re of the heavier musical persuasion, I highly recommend taking a listen if you haven’t already! #BangTheHeadThatDoesntBang #HRMetal

I was that kid who wore his t-shirt into the pool.

At #SHRM19 I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Browne. Any time I have that opportunity, I saver it. As we were sharing a pint and a laugh, I shared that his influence was helping me be more intentional about doing things I normally wouldn’t do. For example, I told Steve, I normally hated my smile and never showed my teeth because they’re crooked, but that I was intentionally showing my teeth when I smiled at the Conference.

In his authentic empathetic style, Steve looked me in the eye with an almost sad look. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Paul, I would have never noticed if you didn’t tell me.”

A lightbulb went off in my mind as if I was struck by the HR god of lightning. Can you imagine Thor as the HR Director? I believe the Employee Handbook would be so much more interesting! But I digress.

Image result for thor yes gif

My lightbulb/lightning moment: The only person who notices your crooked teeth is you! By and large, people don’t notice or care! Or, should I say, the people who matter, don’t notice or care.

That’s the point. Some people will notice, and those people will try to exert power over you. Don’t let them.

I have dealt with weight issues since the sixth grade. It’s a part of my history. It’s a part of whom I am as a person. I wore a shirt in the pool because I didn’t want people to see my tubby body. I was embarrassed. However, I was missing the point.

The white t-shirt was a symbol of my giving other people power over me. I was too worried about their seemingly judgmental eyes and thoughts.

By my hiding my teeth, I gave others power over me. I was worried about their seemingly judgmental eyes and thoughts.

Key word: Seemingly. Eyes and thoughts only hurt you if you let them. And I let them. What I felt, I attracted. I felt embarrassed, so I was embarrassed — despite having nothing to really be embarrassed about! My thoughts became my reality.

Thoughts are powerful – so powerful that you become the sum of your thoughts. Whatever you think about yourself, there you are.

Use this line of thinking in all areas of your life, and especially in your career when you hit those inevitable challenges. Lack of training? Ineffective communication? A lousy manager? Toxic workplace culture? Don’t let your thoughts give these things power over you. As Karlyn Borysenko says in Zen Your Work, “You are the only person who controls the stories you tell yourself.” So take control. Don’t allow negativity to destroy your inner self-worth and sense of who you are.

In Stoic thought, this is known as the “reverse clause.” It’s a backup option. It is using your reason and strength of mind to find a way out and turn the situation on its head.

Lack of training? An opportunity to teach yourself some new skills or find a new mentor to teach you what you need to know!

Ineffective communication? An opportunity to experiment and try new communication channels in your workplace!

A lousy manager? An opportunity to work on your patience and self-control!

Toxic workplace culture? Your job is not a life sentence! An opportunity to update your resume and test your networking skills!

I recently told a friend who has known me for only a year and a half, “I used to be almost 300 lbs.” They remarked in disbelief: “What!? I can’t believe that.”

Believe it, I said. It was true, but I was sick of it being true, and I decided to change the story, so I worked hard for two years shedding almost 100 lbs. It was difficult, yet easy. Difficult because losing weight and changing your lifestyle is HARD. It was easy because I made up my mind that this was my new reality. In the end, my thoughts led to my new reality.

I’ve since gained some of it back. You can take control of your thoughts, but you can’t take control of biology and time. However, I don’t wear my shirt in the pool anymore. I’ve decided to change that story. Now, I’m just showing off my incredibly enviable dad-bod. It’s all the rage these days! And damnit, I’m rocking it!

Silence is Acceptance: HR Cannot Avoid Talking about Mental Health

Killswitch Engage.

“I see myself in you, I know you can make it through.” – I Am Broken Too by Killswitch Engage, Lyrics by Jesse Leach

There is always more going on behind the veil.

I was 18 years old when I first heard Killswitch Engage. 2002 was a strange time in heavy music history. Nu metal acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit were dying out or losing steam while legacy acts like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, or even the likes of Slayer and Testament, were not yet in full recovery.

Something had to fill the void. And something did. Enter Killswitch Engage – godfathers of the “metalcore” scene, which combined thrashy riffage, harsh melodic death metal vocals, and lyrics that dug deep into societal issues.

The moment I heard Jesse Leach, vocalist for KSE in 2002, belt “THE TIME APPROACHES!” in Numbered Days, the opening track of Alive or Just Breathing, I was a different person. I was hooked and immediately stopped everything I was doing and ran to Best Buy to buy the CD! Do people still buy CDs at Best Buy? Anyway….

And then, in a blink of an eye, it seemed over for KSE. Vocalist Jesse Leach abruptly left the band. I was crushed. Another amazing up and coming band was seemingly undone by egos and selfishness.

Thankfully, the band continued and released some classic tunes with Howard Jones replacing Leach. KSE continued stronger than ever blasting hits like the emotional The End of Heartache and their interesting take on Holy Diver from Dio fame.

And then, it all happened again! Howard Jones left the band abruptly, and all seemed lost. Again, typical Rockstar ego and selfishness destroyed a great thing.

Or did it?

Eventually, after KSE held tryouts for yet another new vocalist, Jesse Leach rejoined the band! And then the story came out.

Jesse Leach had struggled with mental health during his first stint with KSE, and truly, his entire life. It had gotten so bad that he couldn’t function as a bandmate anymore and was forced to leave KSE.

In addition, Howard Jones also struggled mightily with mental health challenges, including an almost suicide attempt, which forced him to leave the band, as well.

We’ve all reached rock bottom. Some of our rock bottoms are lower than others. Many don’t understand why people act the way they do. Many don’t understand mental health in general. That’s OK, but it’s not an excuse for those individuals to not show empathy and support.

Unfortunately, the stigma of mental health in society is still rampant. I thought we were better, and people can be, but we have a long way to go.

This morning, I received my daily SHRM email with the title “The Workplace Stigma of Mental Illness.” The article “Mental Illness and the Workplace” is a good read. A theme is that to stamp out stigma, we must be willing to discuss situations and have hard uncomfortable conversations. Otherwise, stigma has unfettered environment to grow strong and rooted.

“It’s hard to be the first to talk about mental health,” says Courtney Seiter, director of people at Buffer. “To have someone like Joel say he’s going to a therapist and what he’s working on paves the way for someone else to say something about what they’re going through.”

Talking about “it,” whatever “it” is, is paramount. HR professionals NEED to talk about mental health in their workplace. HR professionals need to be sounding boards for others. HR professionals need to be advocates for employees.

Why HR? Because we are uniquely situated to handle such conversations. As the old joke goes, HR is part administrator, part lawyer, and part psychologist. People inherently go to HR with their concerns. We are trusted, and we have a responsibility to read between the lines and look for signs of mental health challenges. We ARE NOT doctors and should refrain from diagnoses. However, we can see signs and probe and try to get people to open up about bigger underlying issues. And from there, we need to be advocates and ask how we can help, if we can help.

While HR should take a lead, that doesn’t excuse anyone else from avoiding such conversations. No one should avoid these hard discussions. Too much is on the line. The mental health crisis in the United States (and across the world) is not going to get solved without discussion. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. – 43.8 million, or 18.5% – experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. – 9.8 million, or 4.0% – experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13 – 18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8 – 15, the estimate is 13%.
  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S. – 16 million – had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and specific phobias.
  • Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5% – 10.2 million adults – had a co-occurring mental illness.

The consequences of inaction for families, friends, coworkers, businesses, and society in general:

  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
  • Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18 – 40.
  • Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 10 – 34.
  • More than 90% of people who die by suicide show symptoms of a mental health condition.
  • Each day an estimated 18 – 22 veterans die by suicide.

And yet the stigma persists. Comments are made and go unchallenged.

“Joe just doesn’t care about his work as much as others do.”

“Keyshaun took a month off work? Wish I could just leave work like that.”

“Diane’s behavior is so rude and irritating. Why can’t she just be happy?”

It happens frequently unfortunately. The stigma remains unchallenged. Joe does care. He just doesn’t have the internal strength right now. Keyshaun isn’t on vacation. He’s battling the urges to put a gun in his mouth. Diane can’t just “suck it up.” Being happy is a choice, yes, but mental health battles can rob people of their choices. It’s hard to explain and can’t be unless you’ve gone through those challenges.

At work, whether you’re in HR, the receptionist desk, the frontline on production, the janitorial crew, or in the C-Suite, if you come across such conversations, don’t just walk away or be silent.

Silence is acceptance, and we cannot accept this type of behavior anymore. Our family and friends and coworkers need us all to support them – to be their strength when they have none to give.

I am not writing anything new or groundbreaking. Google “work conversations mental health” and 172,000,000 articles pop up. I don’t care. I’m not trying to be innovative or new on this.

I am trying to do my part by being open, honest, and direct. I am trying to do my part in furthering necessary conversations. I am trying to do my part in letting others know it’s OK to talk about mental health – no, it’s NECESSARY to talk about mental health in the workplace, and in general. Someone’s life literally depends on it. Isn’t that cause enough to be brave, strong, and unrepentant in having those conversations?

There is no other answer than “yes.” And if you are reading this and cannot relate, please find someone to talk to about their mental health experiences. The only way to understand is to seek understanding. If your brother suffers from cancer, do you tell them to “suck it up! Just be happy!” If someone suffered from a heart attack, do you show contempt for them by saying “what a wuss. Pull yourself together.” If not, why would you say that to someone who’s brain isn’t giving them the opportunity to live as well as they deserve? Be kind. Be empathetic. Be overly so.

I encourage you and challenge you to lead a conversation.

I still listen to Killswitch Engage. And thankfully, they’ve even made amends with Howard Jones. Jesse Leach and Howard have never had a beef, and the band to their credit invited Howard to join them on tours, as well as a guest spot on their new upcoming album! I’m stoked!

For their kindness, tenacity, and edge, KSE are one of my favorite bands ever. Not just because they make great music to my ears, but because their musical themes matter beyond superficial things. Since Jesse Leach rejoined the band, he’s been unabashedly open about his mental health struggles. He says talking about mental health should be as common as discussing a sprained ankle.

And for his part, he’s lived those words by penning amazing lyrics that let others know they are not alone.

Songs like “All in Due Time” and “Cut Me Loose” are powerful reminders that no one needs to suffer alone.

And with their newest song “I Am Broken Too,” KSE continue to do their part demonstrating the power of conversation by pledging profits from the song to Hope for the Day, a nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention through proactive outreach and mental health education.

As Jesse so eloquently states his motivation for writing the songs he does:

“When I was younger, I didn’t have a language for it, and I didn’t have people around me talking about it or bringing it to light by saying words like depression or anxiety or bipolar,” Leach says. “It was not talked about.

 “I’ve lost people to suicide, and you didn’t see it coming because they weren’t talking about it. [It’s] something as simple as telling someone you’re not doing OK and having a discussion about it. As simple as that sounds, it’s a game-changer.”

I challenge everyone, HR practitioners and those who don’t understand mental health issues especially, in being a game-changer for someone in need. A life may seriously depend on it. Remember, there is always more beyond the veil.


So You’ve Ruined Your Life: Embrace It

“A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.” – Marcus Aurelius


One of my favorite shows of all time is the Simpsons. I am juuuuust young enough (or old enough) where I don’t remember a time that the show hasn’t been on TV. I grew up with it, and it pretty much shaped many of my favorite memories growing up! My friends and I would spend HOURS laughing and joking about Simpsons’ references.

Even today, I make connections with other Simpsons fans by sneaking Simpsons phrases into casual conversations. When I nonchalantly say “stop, stop, he’s already dead” or “you’re dumb as a mule and twice as ugly” or “Lisa needs braces” or “everyone is stupid except me” – like Captain America, I could do this all day – many people who “get it” will instantly laugh.

There’s a running joke between me and my boss, who is a baby boomer (I tell you that for context). The joke is I am only aware of things she references because it was on the Simpsons. Tennessee Williams, Rear Window, John Waters, the Beatles, Watergate, Thelma and Louise, A Clockwork Orange… I could go on and on. Right or wrong, I understand <insert pop culture reference> because I watched the Simpsons.

Seasons 3 through 8 is some of the greatest television ever broadcasted. In the classic Season 3 episode, “I Married Marge,” Homer and Marge (do I need to explain who Homer and Marge are?) decide to get married because they accidentally become pregnant with Bart.

In classic Simpsons satirical fashion, Dr. Hibbert gives Marge a pamphlet called “So You’ve Ruined Your Life.”

Ultimately, Marge and Homer didn’t ruin their lives, even thought they thought they had. Despite the unplanned pregnancy (and Bart’s hellion personality), they love him dearly, and their marriage is actually a model for Americans! Who’d have thunk it? Despite their dysfunctional family dynamics and character faults, a “ruinous” situation becomes wonderful and fulfilling.

In fact, the Simpsons aren’t simply self-aware of how “dysfunctional” their lives are, they’re happy just the way they are!

There’s a stoic concept for this: Amor fati – “a love of fate!” Friedrich Nietzsche, not necessarily a stoic, but an influential philosopher nonetheless, came up with the phrase itself. He wrote:

That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it….but love it.”

How POWERFUL is that mindset? It’s incredibly freeing – to feel not only at ease with everything that is happening in your life, but EMBRACING it. Everything good, everything “bad” – not merely accepting it, but LOVING it!

Like the quote by Marcus Aurelius above, our own fires (our lives) are made brighter and more powerful by everything thrown into it (good, bad, everything). Fires grow powerful by added inflammable items, which is everything in our lives.

That’s the philosophy. Reality is much different. The truth is, life is messy much of the time, and the human mind hasn’t evolved to think in terms of “enjoying one’s problems,” to steal a Zen proverb. It’s an evolutionary survival mechanism to dwell on our pain and misery – to be pessimistic, to desire that things be different. It goes against the human mind to think in terms of “embracing the suck.”

Fortunately, the mind can be trained! It takes A LOT of work, hard work, but it can be done! Through mindfulness and awareness, we can train the brain to be loving of our “woes.”

This type of training is so important in the human resources field (and any work profession, really)! I don’t need to rehash the point here that HR is a TOUGH profession. People are messy and they will try us! Personal events, health events, work events, life events in general will destroy us if we let them.

Don’t let them control you! You control you!

Recently, I completed a 10 Day Gratitude Challenge issued by Kevin Monroe. You can sign up for the next 10 Day Challenge here! It was an incredibly powerful challenge. It forced me to think differently about things – big and small. There is so much to be grateful for in seemingly innocuous things. We can be grateful for even seemingly “bad” events if we shift our perspective and approach a rewiring of our brain.

Your shitty micromanaging boss? Working with them is an opportunity to develop your patience and negotiation skills! Be happy you have a shitty boss, so you can learn what you don’t want to be! “I’m glad this is happening because I get to grow, which I wouldn’t have experienced had I not had this person as a boss.”

Your diagnosis of a mental health condition? It’s an opportunity to be grateful for a family that is supportive and loving and understanding. By embracing autism, for example, an individual will become aware of what an amazing artist he is! Without the condition, he may not have ever developed or had such inspirational talent.

The Gratitude Challenge is a small step in the right direction towards “amor fati,” or embracing the suck. And actually, when done right, there is no “suck.” Regardless, it’s a starting point, and hopefully, more people sign up for this style of positive thinking! It doesn’t ignore the negative; it takes the negative and destroys it.

Yet, I understand many people who read this post would be skeptical. Again, the human brain is not hardwired to think in these terms. “How the hell can I or should I be grateful for my cancer diagnosis?!?” I would never fault anyone for being angry, mad, upset, etc. That’s being human.

Full disclosure, I have immense difficulty thinking in these terms, but I am grateful that I am aware enough to try to rewire my brain! In a few years, I hope to be better. (That’s how long it takes to rewire decades of pessimism!!! D’oh… I mean… woohoo).

What I am saying is that little afflictions and big afflictions happen. No one can change this fact of life, yet changing the way we react to such things makes all the difference. Powerful individuals are those who can look at such afflictions and see no affliction. They see opportunities to grow, to influence, and to be grateful. They see matches to grow their fire.

That is true power. That is true freedom. That is true peace. I admire the hell out of these individuals, and I wish to emulate them to the very best of my abilities! And one day, I hope to make it with them, no matter how many times I fall!