Obstacles Are the Ally’s Path: White America Knows What to Do

“Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness – these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realize: Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give into such feelings. Or, choose not to.” – Ryan Holiday

There are sayings that change us. Mantras we try to live by. Many of us use them to keep ourselves honest, fuel our fire, or remind us of the paths we wish to travel.

For me, no phrase has done more to redirect my anxiety – done more to change who I am – than “the obstacle is the way.” The beauty of this phrase is that it transcends culture, transcends history. It was uttered by the most powerful man in the Western world while simultaneous having been uttered by Buddhist monks in the East.

Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Emperors of the ancient Roman Empire, wrote to himself in his journal, which would become known as The Meditations, the following:

Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is the Way, very beautifully describes what Marcus was writing – he was reminding himself of one of the core tenets of stoicism, the philosophy to which he dedicated his life. “What it is prescribing,” Holiday writes, “is essentially this: in any and every situation—no matter how bad or seemingly undesirable it is—we have the opportunity to practice a virtue.”

The Zen Buddhist phrase, “the obstacle is the path,” also prescribes this notion. Obstacles aren’t to be avoided. When we apply the right antidotes, they are the path itself. Leo Babauta writes:

You are struggling with writing, and procrastinate. Procrastination is the symptom, but it also illuminates the path you should take: you are dreading something about the writing, you are shying away from discomfort, you are afraid of the writing or what will happen when you publish the writing. So work with that dread, the discomfort, and the fear. You’ll be stronger for having done that.

In my last blog post, I described how I was anxious to discuss race and the Black experience with anyone. That silence isn’t uncommon, unfortunately, and it has collectively, among whites in America, lead to a lot of pain and suffering for our Black brothers and sisters.

The obstacle is my anxiety. The obstacle is my fear. The obstacle is losing my comfort. It’s long past time I turn these into my paths. But which virtue am I supposed to tackle? Where am I supposed to grow? The main four Stoic virtues are:

  1. Courage: To stand up. To charge ahead. To not be afraid or timid in life.
  2. Moderation: To know balance. To be in control of oneself. To avoid excess or extremes.
  3. Justice: To do the right thing. To care for others. To do your duty.
  4. Wisdom: To learn. To study. To keep an open mind.

Looking inside, I think it’s time I focus on addressing all of them. Only by going down this path of anxiety, fear, and uncomfortableness can anyone expect to be a true ally to the Black Community. All four of these virtues are needed to turn the tide and destroy racism in America.

It’s been over two weeks since George Floyd was murdered in the streets of Minneapolis. Our nation just witnessed a massive uprising unlike any since at least the 1960s. People all over the world joined in, as millions demonstrated against racism and police brutality.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Initially, I wrote I didn’t know what to do. Turns out, I did know what to do. Every single person who thinks they don’t know – they know. Knowing what to do is easier than white people give it credit. Don’t use not knowing as the same old tired excuse. Look inside yourself and think. We know. The hard part is acting on the things we know.

Acting will take courage, moderation, justice, and wisdom – as well as A LOT of humility. Ego is the enemy.


Talk to your black friends, colleagues, employees. When I went to the office last week, I intentionally reached out to my black coworkers. I asked them how they were holding up. I didn’t say much, but listened to their stories:

  • One coworker told me the story of how his family was standing in line to talk to a salesman. They were clearly next in line, and the salesman walked right past them to assist the white people behind them instead.
  • Another told me how a contractor was getting ready to do work in the family’s home. When the contractor found out the house was owned by a black family, he packed up his tools and left. He thought the house was too nice, and he didn’t know where they were getting their money. Drugs, most likely, was his belief.
  • Multiple, who live in mostly white neighborhoods, told me about how they get stared at as they try to take a leisurely stroll around the block.
  • One coworker told me that she cried while watching the rioting over the weekend of May 29-31st. She saw on the news a shot of her old neighborhood and a restaurant she used to go to, which was destroyed. She was devastated that she’d never get to bring her grandchildren there to build new memories in their lives.
  • Lastly, one coworker told me she has always been known as a “strong” woman. People would remark that nothing fazes her. She called her niece to see how she was doing as they watched the looting and rioting on live TV. Immediately, when her niece answered the phone, she broke down. They both broke down as they watched the rioting and looting together and lamented what was going on.


If you have a forum, use it. Blog, write letters to the editor, post to social media, engage in healthy, constructive dialogue. For a while I didn’t post “controversial” items to my social media site. I believed it was a waste of time because “no one’s mind is changed by reading social media posts.” I no longer believe that because MY mind has been changed many times by engaging in respectful dialogue online.

Read, read, read.

Do not wait for others to teach you, especially Black Americans. That’s not their job. It is the job of every… single… white American to educate themselves. Education is like armor. You’ll need that armor before you go into the battlefield. Where to start? Google…

By now, you’ve seen post after post touting White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist. If you haven’t please look into them because there’s a reason almost everyone is recommending them. I ordered mine last week, and I can’t wait to dig in. You don’t have to wait, however. A simple Google search reveals wonders. These are some of the articles I’ve read:

Your Difficult Questions About Race in America, Answered

Here’s What White Privilege Actually Means, and How You Can Use Yours To Help Others


5 ways to start being a better ally for your black coworkers

10 Steps to Non-Optical Allyship

5 Reads: How to be Anti-Racist, 11 Things to Do Besides Say “This Has to Stop”, How to Make this Moment a Turning Point and More

Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice

How Are You Showing Up, (White) Leaders?

The Research On White Privilege Blindness

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

Anti-racism resources for white people

Also, DO NOT STOP AT ADULTS! White Americans MUST talk about this with their children. Racism isn’t born in folks. People learn hatred, and they act upon what they pick up. This guide is a great start:

Raising Little Allies-To-Be: A Guide for Caregivers

While you’re at it, learn about the Unwritten Rules of being a Black man in America today. If you’re a white male, read this list, and tell me there is not such thing as privilege.

  • Don’t put your hands in your pockets.
  • Don’t put your hoodie on.
  • Don’t be outside with no shirt on.
  • Don’t touch anything you’re not buying.
  • Never leave the store without a receipt or a bag, even if it’s just a pack of gum.
  • Never make it look like there’s an altercation between you and someone else.
  • Never leave the house without your ID.
  • Don’t drive with a wifebeater on.
  • Don’t drive with a du-rag on.
  • Don’t go out in public in either.
  • Don’t ride with the music too loud.
  • Don’t stare at a Caucasian woman.

Lastly, read up on qualified immunity, Rise of the Warrior Cop, by Radley Balko, and Resist Not Evil by Clarence Darrow. These will explains a lot about how we got to the state we’re in.

Act on what is right.

Be kind. Use your emotions to develop your reason and discussion points. Don’t let your emotions control the situation. It’s already a volatile situation. No one was ever convinced by being yelled at, made to feel stupid, mocked, or attacked.

Voting? I’m not sure I’m the right person to address this, but just remember to do research. Local elections matter more than national ones.


Prepare for tough times ahead.

Premeditatio Malorum.

After all is said and done, I am preparing myself to lose friends. I am preparing myself to strain relationships with my family. Doing the right thing is sometimes the most difficult thing to do. Ultimately, I hope those preparations are for naught. I’d consider myself a much more successful ally to the Black community if I convinced my white friends and family to become allies, too. In 5 years, 10 years, 50 years, I want to look back and say I did something – that I stood for something and helped bring about meaningful, lasting change for Black Americans. If you don’t stand for something, you fall for nothing.

I cannot allow that to happen. I’m going to be anxious. I’m going to be afraid. I’m going to be uncomfortable. Every white American doing the right thing will feel these things, and must feel those things.

People tend to default to the path of least resistance. There are no obstacles on a path with no resistance. There is also no progress, no growth, no justice, no wisdom, no courage, nothing worthy.

White Americans, our obstacles must become our path.

Silence Is Acceptance: HR Cannot Avoid Talking About the Black Experience

“There can be no movement without friction.” – Marc Perry

Nothing I say here is going to be new. It isn’t going to be earth shattering. It isn’t going to be profound. But it is all something that I need to say.

I had wrote an article about how silence is acceptance when it comes to discussing mental health in the workplace. Now, I expand upon those themes here under a different context.

Those familiar with the DISC personality assessment will understand. There are four personalities according to the theory. D – Dominance, I – Influencer, S – Steady, and C – Conscientious.

I am an “S.” Those with this persuasion generally avoid confrontation if possible. They generally disdain combative situations, and do their best to ensure that things stay smooth and comfortable.

Talking about the Black Experience in America is the complete opposite of what a typical S would want to do, which is something, regrettably, I have done far too often.

One of my biggest professional regrets was not calling out someone I used to trust and look up to when this person made a blatantly racist comment in an attempt to justify not hiring a young black man for a position. I was gob smacked. I didn’t know what to do. So, shamefully, I did nothing but walk away.

That experience haunts me to this day. I wish I did more. I was silent in the face of racism, so racism won. It was accepted.

This past week has crushed my soul. Every time I see that monster kneeling on George Floyd, I picture a lion crushing a gazelle’s windpipe in its mouth. A lion, however, isn’t killing out of hatred.

Despite my sorrow, it pales in comparison to the pain, anger, and suffering every single black person who lives in America today has experienced and is experiencing. This scene has been part of their daily lives for far too long.

Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. John Crawford. Laquan McDonald. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. So many other.

All of these black men (and children and women) should be alive today. None of them are. America is sick. It’s been sick for a long time, and its sickness has little to do with COVID-19.

I have thought about my failure a lot this week, and how I make amends for it. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help.

Not knowing what to do cannot be an excuse. I must do something. I have to start somewhere.

And, thankfully, I know where to start – I will start by eschewing my comfort and begin speaking out. I cannot continue being silent. I cannot let my own desire for comfort overpower what is right. Right is might, and might is needed now more than ever before.

This is my promise to my black friends, my black colleagues, my black coworkers. I will speak out when I see racism. I will confront it head on. You have an ally in me.

But I will not stop there. I will continue learning. I will continue engaging in conversation. I will ACT.

I will act where I can, but I will begin in my place of work. That is where I can have an impact right away. Being an HR Director affords me an opportunity to advocate at the workplace for black employees. I will look to empower black Americans in the workplace.

I won’t stop there. I will raise my son to be better than me, braver than me, so that eventually one day, he won’t look back at a moment in time he failed to combat racism.

White Americans, I know we can do better. We must be better. We can’t afford not to be.

If you are struggling with where to start, please see the following resources. I have used them to learn and force myself to become uncomfortable. The only way to move forward is to create friction within myself and with others when necessary. There is no movement, without friction.

Please read this entire thread… Dr. Erin Thomas gave a brilliant synopsis of what we need to do.



Black Americans, I see you. I hear you. I will fight with you. I promise to not walk away from the face of racism again. You deserve better. Your children deserve better. Please know I am trying. I will continue to do what I can to the best of my abilities — despite it making me uncomfortable — or maybe because of it. I know then that something is working.

Street Level Influencer: Meet James Woods

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

James Woods, a nonprofit HR pro extraordinaire!

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.

In the series, I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us, and we just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

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

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan

It’s been a while, but next in the series, I want to introduce you to James Woods, nonprofit HR master from the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Working in the nonprofit sector is challenging. Working in the HR profession is also challenging! Put them together and wow! It can be intense! A lot of times, nonprofits don’t have the resources to conduct the best HR programs – if they have any HR programs at all! Most of the time, the mission critical operations take precedent – for better or worse. Income is contingent upon the generosity of donors and the fickle nature of government grants.

Also, added to this foray is COVID-19. HR has been stretched thin helping employers and employees navigate the crisis. In addition, many nonprofits are considered essential services for when crisis hits, the ones hit hardest are many nonprofits are serving – seniors, disabled, low income, and other disparate populations.

None of these challenges stop James from building amazing programs at the YWCA and helping his people through the COVID crisis – all while maximizing his potential as an HR pro. I first met James via LinkedIn. We connected with many of the same individuals, and we shared a similar background working as HR professionals in the nonprofit sector.

After we connected, I was immediately drawn to James’ positivity and energy. We’ve conversed many times about how HR has a powerful role in strengthening the employee experience. He’s done masterful work in this realm – having developed programs and policies that have helped boost employee engagement and satisfaction.

It’s something we’re both passionate about. Take care of your folks, and they will take care of you!

Without further ado, let me introduce you to James! You’ll definitely want to connect with him and get to know him better.

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

I currently work for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago as Senior HR Manager. I’m proud of my diverse experiences, which include talent acquisition, organizational development, health and wellness initiatives, and, of course, employee engagement!

2. What was your biggest professional success? Why was it important to you?

My biggest professional success was guiding and managing the transition of my organization’s HRIS during a rapid growth model. The project was so important to me because it introduced efficient technology that streamlined multiple processes around Onboarding, Benefits Administration, and other HR items while we were preparing to double the organization’s size simultaneously. The implementation was perfect timing. I’m grateful to receive compliments about it to this day.

3. What was your biggest professional failure? What did it teach you?

My biggest professional regret came when I was helping an employee with claims paperwork. While filling it out, I missed the smallest detail (checking a box), and this mistake negatively impacted the employee. They received an overpayment and was required to repay a portion of the money issued for the claim. When I realized this was executed by me, I was devastated. It taught me a valuable lesson. As much as we think we are masters of multiple tasks, it never hurts to slow down and double check yourself.

4. The COVID-19 crisis has turned our society upside down and put HR in the spotlight. What have you and your organization done to combat the crisis and keep your employees safe and motivated?

The COVID-19 pandemic has truly exposed the best of leadership and the flexibility of the organizations we serve. Fortunately, at the YWCA, we have found ways for all of our staff to function through telecommuting. The operating systems that we have in place allow for all of our teams to function and remain productive. [It’s a blessing to remain operational when so many others have not had the same outcome!] We have an ERG that has been working daily to share information to cope with the shelter-in-place orders, wellness techniques, and resources to maintain basic needs (food, shelter, information). Also, we’ve had a weekly “virtual happy hour” to have a little fun and remain connected.

5. How has COVID-19 changed the HR profession? Do you see this as a lasting change?

The impact COVID-19 has had on the HR profession highlights what HR professionals have known all along…….HR pros are superstars that often times do not receive the acknowledgment they deserve. Through this crisis, we have to be agile, navigate legislation (and implementation of such), workforce reductions, and emotions while our personal and professional lives have been altered dramatically. I see this as a lasting change because it truly highlights the importance of the HR team members as a unit and as true leaders during difficult times.  

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

Erich Kurschat , Founder of Harmony Insights and the HRHotSeat. I have a genuine love for Erich and his passion for the HR profession.

7. How do you connect and interact with others in the HR profession? 

I am a member of SHRM and Chicago SHRM. I also participate in HRHotSeat. I also work on the Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Council of Chicago SHRM. 

8. How can people connect with you?

I can be found on LinkedIn by following the link https://www.linkedin.com/in/jameswoods-shrm-cp/.

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

The world should know that I am lover of music! I have performed jazz and orchestral music as a trumpet and French horn player. I listen to all kinds of music. I even have tattoo of a treble clef, microphone, and music staff wrapping around bicep and shoulder.

Random Thoughts While Being at Home

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandolf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

The following isn’t necessarily a story about human resources. It’s simply me wanting to write – randomly scroll my thoughts down as I find some time to come to terms with the new world we share.

It’s been a while since I sat down to write for the HR Philosopher. It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to do much of what I used to do routinely. It’s been a while for obvious reasons. Although, that statement has the benefit of recency bias. Those reading this today, likely obviously, understand where I’m coming from. Those reading this years from now may not understand the context.

We are living in a world dominated by COVID-19. This microscopic virus, this “organism at the edge of life,” has forced many of us to live on the edge of lives we once knew. Our world, our earth, at least for the time being, does not belong to humanity. It belongs to COVID-19.

However, it won’t always be that way. Eventually, we will overcome and reclaim the earth, our lives, ourselves. I have hope that we will come through this and enter a post-COVID world. This world will be drastically different from the one we used to know. Am I ready for it? Are you?

I sat down to write not knowing where I was going with this. I just know I wanted to write. It had been a while, and I wanted to write something that wasn’t a COVID-19 email to employees, or a policy related to COVID-19. Hell, I don’t even want to write about COVID-19. I hate that damn virus. Although, hating it is pointless. It changes nothing. Wasted energy to hate. My energy is better spent focusing on this blog post.  

It shows the power of COVID, the power of a microscopic barely life-form that the entire earth is focused on one thing like never before, or not for a long time. So, I decided to write about something. That much I can control.

I have been thinking a lot about how the world has changed. It reminded me of stories my grandparents told me. They survived the Great Depression and World War II. Those events instilled characteristics in my grandparent’s generation and made them different.

For example, my grandpa, who grew up on the southside of Chicago, told me how the city would have “black outs” during the War in case of air raids. He told me how their food and supplies were rationed for the war effort. Certain items, like rubber, just weren’t available.

My grandparents reused everything. I joke that my grandma didn’t have Tupperware containers for storing leftovers because she had plenty of used washed margarine tubs that had ALL THE FOOD!

My grandparents never wasted food. They would suck the marrow out of chicken bones. I remember my grandpa hated certain food items, but he ate them every single time my grandma made the meal. Being a picky eater wasn’t a luxury one could afford.

My grandparents worked differently than I do. I feel I am a hard worker due in part to them instilling a work ethic in me. However, their work ethic was just “different.” I complain about work every once and a while. I never ONCE heard them bitch or complain or moan about having to do work. Work was a sacred duty that had to be accomplished. You don’t bitch about a sacred duty.

I haven’t lived through anything like my grandparents. 9/11 was the defining event of my generation, but ultimately, Islamic Terrorism isn’t on the same level as Hitler’s Nazism, or even the very real scare that mutually assured destruction posed following the Third Reich. The Great Recession sucked. It set my generation back, but most millennials came through it and are doing better now. Even during the Great Recession life was nothing compared to the Great Depression. The hardships of the Great Recession were real, but I don’t feel the two compare to the overall human misery that came in the 1930s. Those evens changed everything; however, I haven’t lived through anything like my grandparents – until now.

COVID-19 feels like an economic calamity / war effort. Domestic business is disrupted (and not in the good way). Unemployment claims are skyrocketing. The economy is on shaky ground at best. Industries have shifted production to assist with our frontline soldiers – doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals fighting every day to make sure this virus doesn’t spread. And, as of today, they’re doing it (seemingly) unsuccessfully. People aren’t working and unsure of how to provide for their families. The world feels chaotic, uncertain, scary.

I am mentally and physically drained. The world has changed, and it continues to change by the day, by the hour, sometimes by the minute. I cannot keep up with what I need to do as an HR professional. Trying to communicate with staff, keep them informed, keep them calm and on point has been… trying. It’s been necessary and important.

Yet, I feel calm. I feel hopeful. Doing what I am doing feels like the single most important thing I will ever do as a human resources professional. People need me. I know they do, so I continue on despite having no energy. I find strength in helping others. And I know they appreciate it.

It will take a while to better understand the lasting lessons from this part of our shared history, but here are some random thoughts that have been running through my mind during the last few weeks.

Social distancing. It’s been so engrained into our shared experience. Will we ever return to a social interaction where being closer together isn’t looked upon with a raised eyebrow?

Handshakes. Will we ever be able to shake hands with others again? Will the fist-bump be our new way of showing respect to one another?

Working from home. I’ve been on so many conference calls this past week, and I’ve been so energized how many of my coworkers have embraced technology. If there’s a positive from our shared situation, it’s that we’ve now been thrust into a world not many thought was possible. Our post-COVID world will feature a heavier reliance on technology, and just as importantly, work from home is more “doable” than many skeptics thought. Employees will have the ability to shape their own professional destinies and mental health like never before!

Resilience. People will find a way to make it through this. We are a strong species. We wouldn’t have made this this far if we weren’t. After all is said and done, our lessons from COVID-19 will make us a better society, a better people, and most importantly, a kinder one.

People are good. For every story of some assholes going to the beach and saying “if I get Coronavirus, so be it” there are 20x more stories of people rising up to protect and serve one another. What I find most impressive is that more people are doing this on their own! There’s no overarching government mandate telling people to do well to one another. It’s been natural. Distilleries stopped making booze so they could make hand sanitizer for medical professionals. Restaurateurs are donating food to senior citizen housing facilities. Neighbors are stepping up and bringing meals to their sick neighbors, going to the store for them, and bringing their garbage to the street. I find this so beautiful. You cannot mandate being good. You have to allow people the space (pun unintended) to think about what it takes to help one another and act upon those thoughts.

The only constant is change. This won’t last. COVID-19 will eventually die out. We will develop a vaccine that Jenny McCarthy will refuse to take. We will eventually have it good again. And that good won’t last either. Everything is ephemeral. Wars, countries, pandemics, roaring economies, you, me, the Sun, the Moon, the earth, Pax Americana, Tom Brady’s good looks, the White Castle shits: Nothing lasts forever. Good, bad, indifference – it’s always in flux. Just enjoy what you have now, and prepare for it to end. Move on to the next scene in history knowing it will be but a blip on the radar that no one will truly remember 100 years from now.

Memento Mori. At the end of the day, we don’t know if we will have another day. Remember, that one day, you will die. Every minute that passes is a minute that is gone forever. It should not take our current situation to remind us to appreciate the time that is given to us. I have not been “stuck at home” for almost two weeks with my wife and son. I have been “safe and sound” in my home with my wife and son. I love them, and I will cherish the time we’ve spent in the house during this ordeal. Sometimes, they drive me nuts, yes. But most of the time, they put a smile on my face, and teach me that one day, I won’t have them around, or they won’t have me. Either way, I am appreciating what I have while I have it.

And what I have, is good, and I am appreciating that more and more each day. I hope you can say the same thing. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Grow your love. Develop your patience. Cultivate your understanding. Challenge your perspective. We are in this together, and we will make it through this together. One love. One truth. One destiny.

Stand in Your Worthiness

“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them. – Thich Nhat Hanh

A hallmark of a great friend is non-judgement. You can tell them anything without fear they will critique you or your opinions and experiences. Sure, they may offer you words of advice you don’t want to hear – but may need to! – yet, those words come from a place of encouragement and guidance. Many of us have those people in our lives that we can be completely open with. We don’t fear being authentic with them.

Are you one of those people for yourself?

Have you ever heard someone say this: “I’m my own worst critic.” You likely have. It’s even probable that you’ve said this about yourself! I’ve certainly said this on many occasions. When someone says they are their own worst critic, it’s likely a cover for “I don’t think I am good enough.” It’s a defense mechanism used to blunt the inner self doubt with misplaced logic. If I am my own worst critic, no one else can hurt me.

This line of thinking is fundamentally flawed. We try to protect ourselves from outside forces, but in doing so, we conversely attack our own inner citadel. We are invaded and defeated by a Trojan Horse we built and filled with soldiers only to allow it admittance through our own walls. 

I conducted an interview with Karlyn Borysenko in which she described non-judgement in the following way:

“Being non-judgmental is about resisting the inclination to immediately judge things going on around you as good or bad, right or wrong, better or wrong. By reserving judgment, you can explore different possibilities and perspectives and choose the ones that best serve your goals.”

“Immediately judge things going on around you as good or bad…” As I reread that line she shared with me, it all started to make sense!

I recently had the luck of working with an executive coach. We’ve been focusing a lot on the concept of strengths and weaknesses. He noted that while we conversed, I had a tendency to focus on my weaknesses and downplay my strengths. He told me, I’d use a lot of “qualifiers” when talking about my strengths and positive things that were happening.

“I did well, but…”

“This was a good thing, though…”

“The discuss was a really awesome one, however….”

Qualifiers like “but,” “though,” and “however” are used to negate everything that comes before them. So, in an essence, I was judging the entire experience as bad, even though I claimed the experiences went well! Unlike a non-judgmental friend offering words from a place of encouragement and guidance, I was an enemy to myself – offering masked criticism from a misguided sense of trying to keep myself humble and honest, which had the opposite effect. It wore me down and zapped my self-confidence. Over time, I could only see myself in terms of negative self-judgment.

Not long after that conversation, Erich Kurschat posted an article on his Twitter and LinkedIn feeds that I was compelled to share:

It ignited a conversation with friends and colleagues that really seemed to hit a chord!

It helped me realize, I am not alone. My battle is not unique. Your battle is not unique. Many strong, capable, talented professionals struggle to stand in their worthiness – a WONDERFUL phrase coined by Laura.

Moving forward, with this new point of view and understanding, I plan on working to resist the urges to immediately judge my performance, myself. In addition, I plan on not placing qualifiers on myself. I will not go the extreme and look at everything through rose colored glasses. This is no more a sustainable outlook than always placing “however” on oneself. However, enjoying my wins and allowing myself to feel good about those wins can only be beneficial. 

The key is balance and true rationalism. By being mindful about how you talk to yourself and about yourself, you can realistically assess how you’re progressing in the world. Give yourself space to be your own advocate. Work hard to get better and be better, but don’t do it by building a giant wooden horse and filling it with self-deprecation, self-doubt, and self-criticism.

Do it by allowing for the possibility that you are actually good at things and capable of success. Don’t use “but” when describing a success! Focus on the value of your strengths, of which there are many! You have a lot of them!!! Don’t fall back on where you have a deficit. How can your strengths overcome your deficits?

Accept the success and move on to more! Be your own best friend and champion, or as Laura advises, stand in your worthiness. Stand unwaveringly tall.

Doing the Right Thing Is Always in Our Control

“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The beginning of the year has so many of us thinking, reflecting. We write about our thoughts. We give pause, give ourselves space to explore our feelings, emotions, dreams. How does this all impact our future?

Two of my good friends recently wrote two amazing blog posts from the heart. Both posts are great self-reflection pieces:

I truly enjoyed both of their posts! Their musing inspired me to do some of my own self-reflection, especially on doing right and what that means to me. The tagline in my LinkedIn profile states:

I enjoy HR & doing the right thing. #HRPhilosopher Blogger

People who connect with me sometimes say they are attracted to the “doing the right thing” mantra. So, I got to thinking about what it means to do the right thing. It’s not always clear, yet if we are silent, it is always clear.

Recently, one of my major influences, Ryan Holiday, tweeted the following:

I absolutely LOVED this tweet. I’ve written in the past how philosophy, particularly Stoicism, has influenced my approach to HR. I believe work (both personal and professional) is an act of philosophy. Philosophy, to me, is about being better than you were yesterday, so you can better approach the world by doing the right thing. In HR that has so many amazing possibilities!!!

Back to the right thing. What’s the right thing? In this context, it’s acting kindly, justly, fairly, and empathetically. It’s judging a situation and acting in a measured approach without impulse, without allowing emotion to cloud your actions. This can only be done with discipline, study, and self-reflection.

Recently, Holiday wrote an incredible piece I encourage you to read. In Why You Should Study Philosophy, Holiday proposes that philosophy helps us understand what’s in our control and what isn’t, helps us learn how to live appropriately, how to act in difficult (and not so difficult) moments, develop practicality, help us feel balanced (a particularly important concept to me personally), help us gain perspective, and challenge us to be better in all aspects of our life.

An overwhelming majority of us are doing the best we can. We need to remember that when dealing with others, and when dealing with ourselves. Never forget the role the self plays!

So if philosophy is an act of self-betterment towards helping others, how can thinking about these 8 questions Holiday posed help us in our HR journey?

Is this in my control?

Ahhh, control. EVERYONE struggles with this. Even those who are not self-described control freaks. One of the hardest things to do is admit we are not in control. However, once one let’s go of that burden, so many possibilities open up! Admitting we are not in control of a particular situation allows us to move in a different direction where we can apply ourselves more effectively.

What am I missing by choosing to worry or be afraid?

I often wonder why people complain so much about their job, yet they never leave. I believe it has to do with not being able to let go of what is familiar to them. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t – apparently. But why does it have to be the devil? How self-defeating is that!  Maybe the devil you know is worse than the angel you refuse to meet. By not moving on from a bad job, a bad boss, a toxic situation, we allow those things to consume us! By letting go of the worry and fear, we open new doors and opportunities! Also, you gain a little bit of that “control” thing we all crave! 😊

Am I doing my job?

How do I know if I’m doing my job? If my actions are based on the parameters outlined above, doing the right thing, then I am. If not, I need to take a serious look in the mirror and ask why.

Who is this for?

In HR we have the unenviable position of trying to craft a balance between the organization and the employees. Sometimes, they are one and the same, as in engagement initiatives; and sometimes, they are not, as in layoffs. It’s a fine line, and often HR gets the brunt of the tension blowback. However, every project, every initiative, every policy suggestion should never be about oneself. It should be about doing the best work so others can prosper. If done right, there should be no worries about oneself, because you’ll prosper based on the good work you’re doing for others.

Is this who I want to be?

Before every action, I try to think “is this in accordance with whom I wish to be for myself and to others?” Sometimes, I fail and act differently than I should. However, by continually asking myself the question, I work hard at continuously being the man I need to be – for myself, for my family and friends, for my job, for the HR profession, and for my community. I don’t believe I can act any differently.

Does this actually matter?

Act with purpose, not with impulse. Do a deep dive into why certain things are occurring. Dissect what you’re doing to ensure it makes sense for the organization, for the employees, and for yourself. If it doesn’t matter, then try to find an approach where it can.

What does my ideal day look like?

Ideal? Providing someone who’s down a pick me up. Being a person who can help change the trajectory of that person’s day – even if it’s a simple smile. If that’s not idealistic, then I need to figure out the true definition.

Who do I spend time with?

How does the old saying go? Show me your company, and I’ll show you your future. Who we surround ourselves with has such an impact on who we become! It’s like the old joke, people married for a long time eventually exhibit characteristics of their partner. If we surround ourselves with toxic, mad, cynical people, we become toxic, mad, cynical. If we surround ourselves with kind, encouraging, supportive people, we become kind, encouraging, supportive. This is one of the main reasons over the last several years why I have become more intentional with whom I give my time. It’s why the #StateLineCrew is so important to me. It’s why #HRCommunity is so important. Life is short, and we all end up 6 feet under. Keeping that in mind, I choose to be around people who lift me up, not drag me down! I don’t need any help getting into a shallow hole!

#StateLineCrew at Moody Tongue Brewery in Chicago, IL.
#StateLineCrew in Milwaukee, WI touring the Miller Factory.
#StateLineCrew visiting Hofbrau Haus in Rosemont, IL. Prost!

Doing the right thing is hard. We may not always know what the right thing is immediately. However, most of the time, if we listen closely to our inner voice, we know intrinsically what it is. We just have to give ourselves space to think, so that we can act appropriately to whom we want to be. And if we fail, no worries because we will be better prepared for the next time.

Street Level Influencer: Getting to Know Blake Quinlan

“Time spent on hiring, is time well spent.” – Robert Half


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.

In the series, I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us, and we just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

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

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler

Next in theseries, I want to introduce you to Blake Quinlan, recruiter extraordinaire from Express Employment Professionals, based in Champaign, Illinois.

These past few years, most hiring managers understand the challenges that we’ve faced when hiring in this employees’ market! One of the best markets in recent history for job seekers has made hiring a major pain! Savvy employers had implemented distinctive techniques in attempts to bridge the gap between open positions and talent acquisition.

It was roughly a year and a half ago that yours truly began experimenting with new ways to ensure programmatic needs were being met – well, new ways to me! (That’s how we gain experience!!!)

The agency I worked for at the time was having a very difficult time filling positions in some area programs. So, I had reached out to a Express in an attempt to mitigate a most difficult situation. It my first time working with a temp agency, so I had no idea what to expect. Luckily, the experience was worth more than I’d have known at the time – both for my employer and for me!

Now, before I continue, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention an inside joke. There is a classic Key and Peele skit about a substitute teacher that mispronounces all his students’ names due to a cultural misunderstanding! One such name is “Blake,” which is mispronounced as “Buh-lah-kay.”

Thus, enter Blake (pronounced “Blake”), whom I got to know as the recruiter for the temp agency who was an intricate part of helping me navigate the wonderful world of temp workers! From the moment I met him, I could tell Blake was different. He exuded a passion for helping people find the right talent for their needs. He had a confidence about him and an excellent sense of humor! He understood the Key and Peele reference!

Blake was awesome to work with. He understood our needs, and worked well at helping my agency overcome some employee challenges. I was excited that he wanted to be a part of this series, so I could share his stories.

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

I am currently a Senior Recruiter with the Specialized Recruiting Group out of Champaign, IL. The recruiting job in a nutshell is placing qualified candidates with companies that are looking to hire. I love what the position represents – networking and connecting people, but I am tired of some of the ways we go about connecting – emails and just sending resumes, specifically.

  1. In our recent conversation, you mentioned that there is a stigma in HR circles surrounding recruiting. I was intrigued by that point of view. Would you be willing to expand upon that?

There are a lot of ways I could go with this one. Like you mentioned in our conversation, recruiting is interesting because it is a function of HR. The way I see it a really good recruiter can make someone in HR look really good and vice versa. Unfortunately, too many times have there been bad experiences for both candidates and HR professionals that I think creates the stigma.  LinkedIn has put out some really good content about this.  Here’s a synopsis of the Future of Recruiting, with the full report linked in the article:  https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/future-of-recruiting/2019/7-predictions-on-how-recruiting-will-be-different-in-2025. One thing that stands out to me is how recruiters will be more strategist, which is where I hope I am able to show value to clients, in developing a customized recruiting plan and then executing it. 

  1. How do you work to address that stigma in your everyday professional endeavors?

I really try to address it straight on. I hope that my passion for my job is conveyed through everyone I speak with. I am also trying to take a creative approach toward connecting with both candidates and client companies through my use of video. You can see on my LinkedIn page how I have used it to advertise positions, but I am also using it to target specific clients that I am looking to work with and using it in my presentation of candidates to clients e.g. In lieu of a resume, you get a video of me and ~Candidate~ discussing the role! 

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

My biggest professional success came right around the time that we met, when I was in charge of developing a new office from scratch, in Ottawa, IL. I was responsible for everything from Business Development to managing Recruiting, to internal human resources, to everything in between. I cherish the experience because it showed me that I can take nothing and turn it into something with minimal direction, but also that the hard work and grind of being an entrepreneur is something that I enjoy.

  1. What was your biggest professional failure? What did it teach you?

My biggest professional failure came this year. As backstory for the readers, I quit my position with the Specialized Recruiting Group and took a role as a Port & Shopping Guide on the Harmony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean. The position seemed like it was going to be right up my alley, talking with people, networking, doing public speaking, etc. Unfortunately, when I got there, most of my 12-14 hour days were spent folding and stapling paperwork. It taught me the importance of a good job description LOL 😊 It taught me a lot specifically empathizing with how the majority of the world lives where a position on a cruise ship making as low as $600-800 per month is considered a “Top Job.” It also made me a lot more appreciative of everything I have in the middle of Illinois, specifically the relationships I’ve developed.

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

Lynn Yoerk is the owner of the Specialized Recruiting Group office I work in. Lynn has been a business owner for over 20 years, is consistently the most positive and outgoing person I deal with, and is incredibly talented at developing people into being the best version of themselves. I feel really lucky to be able to work with Lynn and her husband Richard and learn and grow from them daily!

  1. Do you have an professional experience where HR helped you in a unique or specialized way that you’d care to share?

HR helps me every day in my job!  I always enjoy when I have a great relationship with someone in HR and how much easier that can make every ones job.

  1. How can people connect with you?

People can connect with me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/blake-quinlan-872a0027/.

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

The world should definitely know that I am a fanatic of the funk! The last 3 shows I have been to have been funk bands and I can’t get enough.  I’m a fan of everything from the more retro Sly and The Family Stone to the modern gangsta funk of Tuxedo.

Conduct a Daily Performance Review with Yourself 

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” – W. Edwards Deming 

person hands woman pen
Write down your expectations, and they won’t elude you!

I have been at my new job for almost a month and a half! It has been an amazing experience so far. Never having switched professional organizations before – I was at my last organization right out of college and stayed for 10 years – I never had the perspective of how radically different organizations functioned. 

I had the idea in theory, of course, but finally having experienced it changes one’s perception and understanding.  

Currently, one of the projects I am helping direct on is rolling out the annual performance appraisal process. Traditionally held at the end of the year, we’re asking staff to reflect back on their year and offer input in how to move forward together – better. It’s standard issue stuff! 

Reflection is something many people do this time of year.  

It’s almost the New Year. Another year has passed, and a new one is rising in front of us as we scramble to buy last minute presents, make plans for parties, and finalize year end work tasks. 

We think back to the year that’s gone and wonder — what were my accomplishments, what were my failures, where could I have been better, what do I want moving forward, what made me happy, what made me sad, where do I go from here?  

I believe this is a wise thing to do. However, I believe it’s wiser to reflect on a daily basis. At the beginning of the day or end of the day, we should be thinking these about these questions. 

Think about it in terms of a performance management process. While doing a review is better than not doing one, many HR professionals understand that a better approach to the yearly review is a continuous evaluation process – continuous performance management rather than yearly performance reviews.

What makes for better performance management? Taking the time once a year to look back on your staffs’ work, struggling to remember all the ins and outs of their job performance, or implementing a year-round performance appraisal process – one where you do regular touch bases and hold regular conversations about how they are doing and how they can continue to succeed? 

For me, it’s no question that the latter model builds organizations towards greater success. Similarly, this approach is also how we can more successfully better ourselves! 

Conducting daily touch points with ourselves keeps us on task. It keeps us accountable to our goals, to our aims, to our inner needs. Yes, it’s good to look back at March and remember that I didn’t handle a situation too well. However, isn’t that better to do in March when the event is fresh in my memory, the details crisp and ready to address quickly and powerfully? Man, I really slayed that meeting back in August! I did so awesome! Well, maybe reflecting about it in August gives you immediate perspective as to WHY you slayed it and the wherewithal to build upon it right away.

Reflecting sooner to situations allows an individual time and space to work on immediate, daily self-improvement. 

As the old Zen saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Reflecting daily is that single step. Eventually, the days become months, become years, and we wake up a better person than the day before barely even realizing it because of the gradual nature of the process. 

That’s the point. We focus too much on results that we forget about the process. The process is a guide that leads to our results. Focus on the process, and you will see results. Focus on the steps, and you will experience a great journey!  

So, we should be holding daily performance reviews with ourselves. What does this look like? The old HR joke is if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen! I am a strong proponent for journaling. Writing it down provides a platform to record, analyze, and revisit personal progress. It’s easy to spend 5-10 minutes at the end of the day (or the first thing when you wake up) to think about what is going on in your world.

Journal on what your day was like, or what you want it to be. Journal about events, projects, or relationships that have gone wrong, or are going in the wrong direction, but don’t sulk. Write about what you plan to do to move forward on a path to correct those events, projects, or relationships. Journal about what went right, or what is going right, but don’t pat yourself on the back for too long. Use that success to build a foundation for more success. Staying put doesn’t move one forward.

This is what Marcus Aurelius did. One of the most powerful people in the world took time out of his day to reflect. He wrote those reflections down as a way to hold himself accountable – to get better. His daily performance reviews became his Meditations, one of the most influential pieces of literature in history.  

Think about that. A Roman emperor’s private thoughts written 2,000 years ago, which he never intended to share with anyone, held so much practical wisdom that the compilation sells thousands of books a year and influences people to become better versions of themselves. 

What practical wisdom can you be sharing with yourself as you conduct your daily performance reviews? Write it down and find out! 

Again, it’s about focusing on the process. Do that and the journey takes care of itself. 

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

Be Seen and See Others – Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Olga Piehler

No act of kindnessno matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop


I’ve been writing a lot 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’ve been working hard 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!

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

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton

I continue this series by introducing you to Olga Piehler. I first came into contact with Olga on Twitter when she reached out to connect! I was immediately captivated by her positivity. Olga always has an encouraging word to say or comment to give. She will go out of her way to help pick a person up, even if that means digitally! Olga is altruism personified!

My growing friendship with Olga is a perfect example of the power of the internet to bring people together. We may have never gotten to know one another if neither of us chose to be intentional about reaching out to others via social media. I am very excited to bring her story forward.

The most interesting aspect to this Street Level Influencer story is that Olga is not an HR professional! Yet, she found it important for her to connect with HR professionals on social media. She’s a testament to how influential HR can be, and how important the profession is to the business world. She cites examples below as to why HR is important and why she is connecting with HR professionals despite her not being in that world professionally. It is important to Olga to cast a large net and learn from as many differing perspectives as she can.

That’s a lesson everyone should believe in! Olga is a sweet, empathetic person, whom I hope you connect with! She will definitely brighten your day!

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

I help people during one of the worst times in their life.

I am a team member in North America’s largest single provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services. We are dedicated to compassionately supporting families at difficult times, celebrating the significance of lives that have been lived, and preserving memories that transcend generations, with dignity and honor.

Interestingly, and perhaps somewhat unusual in this day and age, my experience has been with ONE company for 18 years. I was employee number 8 for a small start-up company called Making Everlasting Memories (MeM). MeM delivers Software As A Service (SaaS) that aids Funeral Homes (and staff) in the personalization of the services they provide to honor a life lived.  In this manner, we work in a B2B environment although the output of our software/platform is received by a consumer family.  My beginnings at MeM were very humble … I came in to help with filing after having left my PhD. program in Australia (after the 9/11 events) and having to “figure” out what to do next with my life.  Fast forward 18 years, I am currently ​part of the executive leadership team at MeM.  My team is a cross sectional team of extremely talented individuals and our mission is to ensure that our customers trust, know, and want to use our platform so they can provide the highest level of benefit to the families they serve. We work closely with the delivery team (IT side) to ensure solution-based product development and we advocate to represent the goals and interests of our clients. In between, I have gained​ ​extensive experience supporting software deployment in a SaaS platform. We work in an agile environment and deploy software to over 2,000 properties across North America. I oversee all change management and implementation; negotiate with the Director of Technology product releases as to minimize impact to our customers while maximizing value; provide guidance and recommendations in product enhancements/changes based on customer feedback; involved in aspects of software platform design to ensure usability and scalability to meet the needs of our multiple customers. I am also responsible for the design, development and oversight of all strategic, revenue-generating initiatives that achieve customer acquisition and retention objectives.

  1. As a professional not with an HR background, how do you see HR fitting into the success of an organization from your perspective?

I believe the role of HR teams is extremely critical in organizations, particularly given the current climate of Digital Transformation during the 4th Industrial Revolution.  For a long time, and given older management and business models supporting command and control practices, HR teams in most organizations became compliance and process keepers and administrators of the rules governing the organizations.  I believe this contributed to many team members viewing HR teams as individuals to fear instead of partners in their success.

HR Teams have been PROCESS focused and they must become more HUMAN focused.

As organizations start to wake up and make the necessary changes from within to enable them to be successful in today’s world, HR Teams will be required to become Strategic Business Partners to aid in the transformation required to get teams/organizations ready for the Future Of Work (which really is the Present of Work).  I believe HR teams of progressive and successful organizations will be engaged regarding what are the organizational strategies and how the organization will deliver them by helping define the people strategy with a focus on the employee experience.  Develop career intelligence by re-scaling and up-skilling jobs within the organization by understanding which jobs will grow or shrink in the upcoming years and creating an environment of flexibility, adaptability and continuous learning that supports internal mobility. Understanding what skills are currently present INSIDE of the organization and how to tap into them.

  1.   What do you like about HR that has you connecting and interacting with so many in the profession?

 Over the last little bit in my life, I have come to understand that I am an HR person on the inside – I guess I don’t have the credentials behind my name to make me one on the outside.* I didn’t strive nor aimed to connect with HR professionals in particular.  The connections organically grew as I followed and participated in conversations with like-hearted individuals who believe in the innate value each one of us possess and have a deep commitment to leave the world better than we found it.  Before I knew it, I found myself in the middle of this beautiful community and most of their inhabitants happened to be HR professionals (on the inside AND outside!). I believe ANY true servant leader is an HR professional on the inside.

*Editor’s Note: Having HR certification does NOT an HR practitioner make. Yes, having credentials is a great achievement worth celebrating, and I am a SHRM Certification Ambassador who believes in getting certified IF ONE WANTS. However, there are thousands of amazing HR professionals that are not certified. An HR professional’s worth comes from within themselves and through the work they accomplish on a daily basis helping employees and organizations. It doesn’t come from arbitrary letters following their name! – Paul L.

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

 My TEAM. I joined MeM as employee number “8” and helped it grow and be what it is today. At the beginning, like in most “start-ups” roles were very loosely defined – we had titles but the title did not “define” what we did … we simply just DID.  One of my early roles was to lead the Customer Service Team – and I’m proud to say that my first hires are still within our organization (now in very senior roles – software developers and creative design).  I have people in my team who have been with me for their entire career in most cases probably over 12 years. We are recognized within our parent company (Service Corp International) for our Customer Service – best in the company! Other Team members got advanced degrees while being part of the team and have left the organization and are doing GREAT things in other places.  Yet, when they are in town they stop by for a hug, to see how we are doing and share what they are doing and may even organize a small get together outside of work.  That gives me a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment.

  1. What was your biggest professional failure? What did it teach you?

Leadership Absenteeism – during my 18 year career, there was a period of about 2 years where I just “didn’t have it in me.”  I was exhausted, emotionally drained, unable to personally cope – after the birth of my second child, I developed postpartum depression. I never told anyone at work. I just kept “working” and wearing the “mask” that all is ok. Shortly after, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and what followed were 6 years of one crisis after another until her passing. Then, a year later, my grandmother passed.  I say all this as to contextualize where I found myself as a leader and how my inability to healthily cope with it all transformed my performance resulting in Leadership absenteeism. I DISAPPEARED to my team.  I couldn’t serve them as I had no reserves in my tank. I even grew resentful at times. This was a very dark period in my life and career. I felt inadequate as a leader and unable to lead.

What did it teach me? I learned that the concept of “COMPARTMENTALIZATION.” It’s the WORST advice we can give our team members as they struggle inside or outside of work.  It’s a fantasy to think someone can do that in a healthy way as they work through BIG challenges for an extended period of time. As a young leader, I was conditioned to think that way – emotions have no place in the workplace and was penalized for an inability to hide them or “compartmentalize” well.

As leaders we must create safe spaces for our team members to bring their full-selves to work each and every day.  A big part of who they are, it’s their emotions and the issues they may be trying to cope with.  It’s our responsibility to be there for them and with them in periods of growth, periods of challenge, life events (good or bad). That’s how we lead.

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

Minda Harts – author of The Memo: What Women Of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table.

  1.   How can people connect with you?

LinkedIn and Twitter are the two social platforms that I’m most involved in.  I deeply enjoy connecting with others and contributing to conversation.

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

I deeply believe that it is my responsibility to make an impact for the better – to use my time on this earth to bring my LIGHT to others so that they can bring their light in return and convert energy into JOY and LOVE and BELONGING. Every interaction in my life provides an opportunity to do so – as a mother, a partner, a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, a stranger. EVERY interaction. I believe WE ALL are walking miracles, and we have a responsibility to grow to our fullest potential to repay back the universe for the investment it made in our creation.

​ Be Seen and See Others​ – is my message to the world. Be seen: Know thyself, and be courageous to bring YOU into light for others to “see” you. See others: Provide a safe space for others to know themselves and be courageous to bring their light for others to see – Witness YOU and Witness OTHERS.

My purpose is to help remove obstacles that stand in the way of others from fulfilling their purpose. And my vision is to bring beauty, joy, inspiration and love into the world one interaction at a time.

My super power is ​Ignition – I can see potential, and I can transfer the energy I feel from that potential onto others so they can move forward, I can create excitement and momentum and provide an environment conducive to forward movement. I can make others “feel” what is possible and “want” what is possible.

I LOVE my children​ – two incredible humans. Being a mother is all about Leadership. I always felt like that innately, and then when I heard Bob Chapman shared that thought I felt validated – like, YES! I knew it! It’s having this incredible “seed” in you care that has within it the potential to become all it is to become and you get to provide the right conditions for it to flourish.

I LOVE my dog​ – like I never “got” dog-moms, and then I became one, and it was game over!  She provides me with this sense of UNCONDITIONAL LOYALTY. She is companionship and everyone in the family claims she is “my favorite.” I deny it of course (but wink, wink!)

I LOVE people​ – I genuinely DO. I know I embarrass my family at times because I don’t know a stranger, but I also know they feel more connected to this world because that’s the case. We don’t live in isolation (that was something I couldn’t get used to moving from Spain to the States – how anonymous one became). We are surrounded by walking miracles with stories and hearts. We are all TEAM HUMAN and in each interaction – however small – we are given the gift of being present and meet another member of our team.

I LOVE life itself​ – the mere fact that we get a chance every day to go at it again.

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own or my interviewees and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

#HRMixedTape – My Favorite Albums from 2019 Edition

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato


Earlier this year, Steve Browne wrote a blog called #HRMixedTape2019 – HR Edition!

In it, he issued a unique challenge. He wanted HR bloggers to post a “mixed tape” of songs that connect to HR concepts.

I thought this was an awesome challenge, so much so that I wrote TWO posts on the topic!!

#HRMixedTape2019 – Heavy Metal Edition! \m/

#HRMixTape2019 – Metallica Edition \m/

Music is a huge part of my life. It’s entertained me, inspired me, motivated me, and saved me. Usually, I do a December post on my Facebook page listing my favorite albums from the year. For 2019, I felt inspired to do another #HRMixTape challenge! I took my five favorite albums from 2019 and linked its themes to HR topics and workplace situations.

So, here’s my #HRMixTape for my favorite albums in 2019!

  1. Amon Amarth – Berserker

HR Lesson: Work so HR isn’t seen as the Viking invader sent to set fire to the village!

Amon Amarth are a melodic death metal band from Sweden. They take their name from the Elvish word for Mt. Doom from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. They are obsessed with Vikings! So much so that every album has a Viking theme. From Odin, to Thor, to pillaging, and war, Amon Amarth sing about all the Viking things!!! And their latest album, Berserker, is no different. The Berserkers were fierce warriors from Norway who were legendary for their fear inspiring brutality. The English word berserk is descended from the Berserkers, who cried and screamed and yelled hellishly as they ran into battle! They feared not pain nor death! Much like the Berserker, HR sometimes puts the fear of God in employees. This is unfortunate. HR should be seen as a force for good in the organization, not the force to fear. Ultimately, employees may not scream in fear as HR walks into the room, but many do hush up or quietly change their tone. It cannot be said enough: HR pros need to work harder than other functions at gaining trust and respect in the workplace. I hope you’re up to the challenge!

Also, on a side note, my favorite thing about Amon Amarth live performances is the tradition of the Viking Boat “row pit.” It’s pretty entertaining and takes some fierce diehard fans to start a row pit!

  1. Killswitch Engage – Atonement

HR Lesson: Be relentlessly positive in the face of adversity!

I previously wrote how influential Killswitch Engage has been on my life. They’re my second favorite band following the mighty Metallica!!! I was so pumped when they released Atonement this year – their first album release in three years. It’s an album about relentless positivity. Songs like “The Signal Fire,” “I Am Broken Too,” and “Take Control” help remind the listener that they are stronger than they know and are not alone in their internal struggles. Positivity isn’t about being naïve or ignoring reality. Positivity is about choosing to notice the good and find the good in the perceived bad. HR professionals are like everyone else, in that, many suffer from “imposter syndrome,” anxiety, stress, depression, etc. Remember, always remember, that you are not alone, you are stronger than you know, and you are competent. Find something good in a bad situation to cling to for strength and guidance.

  1. As I Lay Dying – Shaped By Fire

HR Lesson: Our failures don’t define us because we can always choose to acknowledge them, accept them, and act to rebuild!

As I Lay Dying is one of my favorite bands ever, which is why I was devastated to hear the news of their breaking up in 2013 due to the horrific deeds of the band’s front man. Tim Lambesis tried to hire a hitman, who turned out to be an undercover cop, to murder his estranged wife. It was shocking news, as Lambesis was always well thought of. By all accounts, he was a loving, positive, kind person. It seemed that many of his inner demons and the stress they caused him had him snap in a horrific, unacceptable way. Since that time, Lambesis had served a jail term that he claims saved him. He came to accept his disgusting actions, take responsibility, and try to change the world for the better. He’s been on the record for having stated he cannot erase, nor is he trying to, his sins, but he wants to make amends as much as is possible. He’s since become a certified councilor to assist in jail release/transition programs, done work for supporting mental health nonprofits, and been very open and honest about his past transgressions. He isn’t running, or hiding. Since, he made amends with the band, which reunited and released Shaped By Fire late in 2019. The entire theme of the album is how to rebuild, redefine, and move forward after extreme failure in positive ways.

This is a difficult one to write about. How can we celebrate someone who tried to do something so horrific? Yes, his inner demons got the best of him and made him act in ways counter to his nature, or in ways counter to basic human decency, and there have been plenty of people fighting internal battles who never succumbed in the way Lambesis did. It’s understandable why so many people would balk at showing Lambesis forgiveness. And they’d be in their right to do so, and in some ways justified.

I’d ask, though, what does shunning such people accomplish? Should someone be punished in such ways forever? If the answer is yes, then what’s the point of prison? Isn’t prison meant, in some instances, or many instances, to reform offenders so they can again reenter society as a positive addition? The case of Lambesis seems to support this. The system worked in this instance. He served his time, has taken full responsibility, and is trying to make amends for what he did.

Similarly, isn’t this the point of performance management? To help employees through their struggles towards greater success? HR practitioners need to take a more nuanced approach to performance management, especially the dreaded PIP! I’ve heard too many professionals say the PIP is the last resort. It’s punishment for unacceptable performance up to this point. To me, this is just setting the employee up for failure. Instead, maybe use the PIP earlier in the process, not at the end. We should use it as an intentional coaching moment, an intentional coaching process. A PIP should be the time to guide the employee towards better habits, expectations, and outcomes. IN the end, everyone benefits by this viewpoint and effort. Difficult employees shouldn’t’ be written off, ignored, or terminated willy nilly. People are messy. They make mistakes. Sometimes big ones, that deserve termination. That termination can be a kind move by management that sets up the employee for future success. But termination shouldn’t be the default reaction, which unfortunately is sometimes the case. Ultimately, decisions on performance management should me made in the realm of kindness. What is best and most kind? Only the individual situation can determine that. Be kind in all decision making.

  1. Rammstein – Rammstein

HR Lesson: We may speak different languages, but communication is more than that!

It’s been ten years since the German flamethrowers released new music, and the wait didn’t disappoint! The self-titled album is Rammstein at their purest German industrial metal greatness! For those unfamiliar with Rammstein, they are all about the theatrics! Influenced by German history, they take their cues from classic musicians like Wagner and Beethoven and add a modern hard metal edge to their sound. The result is both epic and beautiful (and other times scary and funny!). And they stay true to themselves by keeping all the lyrics in German! To achieve such worldwide success while not producing their work in English is truly magnificent. And as far as HR is concerned, we should remember that everyone in the work place speaks a different language. Maybe not always literally, but always figuratively. HR practitioners need to learn to be linguaphiles, and learn to speak multiple languages – languages each employee “speaks,” meaning learning styles, work styles, leadership styles, etc. By doing so, we make deeper connections with employees, strengthen relationships, and build a more cohesive business. Learning to “understand” the language of others can help us all appreciate the beauty of individual differences and how they make beautiful music!

Fair Warning: Rammstein are, well, uniquely artistic, so take that in mind before (or if) you watch the video. May not be safe for younger viewers!

  1. Metallica – Helping Hands… Live & Acoustic at the Masonic

HR Lesson: Sometimes reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary; just play the same song a little differently!

Those that follow me or this blog just KNEW I had to get in a Metallica paragraph! What does Metallica have left to do? Probably nothing! However, don’t tell them that. Earlier this year, they recorded an all acoustic set of some of their most classic songs (and some original covers). The proceeds from the live show and subsequent record release went to support their “All Within My Hands” charity, which its mission is helping various causes around the California Bay Area. The live recordings are unique takes on some really good music written by the band years prior. I think many times HR professionals try to seek new answers to questions that have already been asked! Sometimes, we need to seek the old answers to these questions. Sometimes, the answer is easier than we make it. Need a new form? Well, ask, do I REALLY need a form? Can this be answered without adding bureaucracy? And if the answer is still “I need a new form,” ask your peers if they’ll share a form with you! Take that form and tweak it so it fits your specific business needs. This is just a small example we’ve all likely done, but a lot of times the music has already been written. It’s up to us to reinterpret and cover it in a different way.


Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.