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Spark of Magic With a Touch of Madness

Once upon a time, long ago in a land far, far away…

It’s a classic start of the most mesmerizing stories that once seemed so real to us. What would you have done with your three wishes had you found Aladdin’s magic lamp? Come on, I know at some point in life you thought about it.  And if not, you probably bought a lottery ticket and dreamed of the thought of winning 30 million and all your dreams that could come true.

Ringing in the New Year

A new year means 365 new chances! Many of us take the time to overthink the old year and make up the balance. What were my successes, did I make my targets, am I satisfied, and what should I do different? At the same time, we develop a plan for the year ahead of us. What are my goals and targets, how am I going to achieve them, and what can I do to help others achieve theirs? Maybe you even have dreams you always wanted to make come true but felt out of reach before now.

What does it really mean to you to make the year count or even your life count? That’s a very personal thing, of course, but I would love to take you on a quick journey through another one of my brain spins.

For me personally, it’s important to make every day count. And it’s often in the little things.  Despite the fact I’m a leader, I love the value of entertainment and humour to make everyone get a little bit closer to themselves and help them stay away from outside distractions that often ruin their happy vibes. Staying close to yourself helps to connect to others. Whether it’s dancing at the desk, playing a round of request songs, and teaching others basic dance moves at the office, or making people see that little sparkle of light in a dark and shitty day. Not passing by their true emotions but helping them stay close to themselves and changing their perspective on that rough moment or experience.

Embracing Your Inner Child

I think it’s incredibly important to hold on to your inner child and to follow your dreams! A spark of madness and a rich imagination are valuable tools to make a difference, not only for yourself, but it’s an amazing way to impact others. You only get one spark of madness in this life. It’s so easy to get lost in this world without it so you have to maintain it.  Never lose your inner child, never lose your enthusiasm, and never lose your curiosity!

One of my most favorite quotes covers it all:

“The secret of a genius is to carry the spirit of young child into old age.” –  Aldous Huxley

A child is in touch with its aliveness. There’s a level of innocence that’s hard to hold on to as we “mature”. A child will dance naked and not think “I’m fat”.  They will sing and not think, “I wonder if I’m off key”. They will love you without conditions.  Living through the eyes of a child is just pure freedom. They are so in touch with their divine, their essence, their soul. It’s something special if you can carry this into an old age, because everybody deserves a spark of magic.

Keeping that Child Alive

We often worry too much about what others think of us, inciting unnecessary fear.  It creates boundaries that block our road to give our very best,  and leads to overthinking amazing ideas and beating down great enthusiasm. Do expectations really change?   Well, I guess to some degree they do.  I think it might be frowned upon if I dance around naked through the office tomorrow, but at the same time, there is so much room to be met in the office.  I stay close to myself and, at the same time, bring others closer to their true selves.  I encourage them to enjoy every moment to the fullest and inspire them to really go for it.

In the end, all that’s going to matter is the influence that you had on other people’s lives. Having an impact and being appreciated for it is the foundation of everything we do. We are all on a separate journey! But in the end its going to be about who you where as a person, how you lived your life, how you encouraged and impacted others.

“History is being read, but it’s also being written by people with imagination.” – Les Brown

Yet another strong quote that outlines the importance of holding on to your dreams and keep that spark of magic going. Part of the magic is determined by how much you believe in yourself. Walt Disney once said, “if you can dream it, you can do it”.   There is so much truth in his words. Even if you won’t get there today, you are going to be closer than you were yesterday. Keep going step by step. You might find the first step to be the hardest, but remember that you are never alone. If I can help you to keep your spark going, know where to find me.

Don’t you ever wonder if it’s all just a dream? Make the best of it and you will live happily ever after…. Wishing you an amazing 2021.

Virtual meeting

The Virtual Party

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a unique year. With the New Year just around the corner, the typical excitement of ringing in a new year, full of opportunities and hope, has been replaced with the reality that 2021 is bound to start with uncertainty and growing anxiety.  Currently, many businesses are closed with no re-open date.  Many people find themselves unemployed or working remotely from home.  Initially, most found the idea of working from home enticing, cutting out the commute, more time to balance work-life situations.  Although it sounds ideal, working from home is actually tricky. The usual problems of working remotely (lack of structure and routine, no designated space to work, constant interruptions, etc.) can be managed. Still, some issues require outside influences to execute properly.  Specifically, I’m talking about keeping your team feeling like a team and not individual employees working from their home silos.

Is Technology The Answer?

I’m confident that the amount of Zoom meetings has increased exponentially since the Covid pandemic began.  Although technology is an excellent addition to our work environment, it doesn’t replace human interaction.  As Peter F. Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”  It’s difficult to read that non-verbal communication from your computer screen.  If you can get a video meeting off without any technical or equipment difficulties, it can be useful. Still, it isn’t the same as sharing a cup of tea or coffee during a break or being physically present to support each other.  Video meetings do have their place, and they can save windshield time for people having to commute to one center for a face to face.  Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, face to face meetings are out of the question. So how can we use technology while still maintaining the team environment and camaraderie that we come to expect from a well-functioning team?

The Virtual Celebration

This last weekend we attended Jeffrey’s virtual Christmas party for his Fire Department colleagues.  We weren’t sure if it would really provide a party atmosphere if everyone were remotely logging in, but we donned our Christmas sweaters (yes, we are those people), and the virtual Christmas party began.  Everyone received an ample supply of snacks, three sample wine bottles, and three kinds of cheese per package.  The night started with a greeting from the chief, followed by a wine tasting.  The tasting was to last an hour – I thought that would be a little dry (no pun intended), but it was so interesting and entertaining.  Then the group played some trivia and continued to visit.  While we were all on the video party, we were also chatting with each other on our phones, allowing for smaller side conversations as you would have at a live event.  I’m not sure what about the night made it so real.  It certainly wasn’t the same as a normal Christmas party, but I think it was as close as we could safely get during this crazy pandemic. Above all, it was a fun night!

Team Building is More Challenging

The virtual Christmas party organizers did a great job of combining the virtual with the traditional celebration so that everyone was included, celebrated, and felt the team connection they have come to know. This Fire Department has struggled this year to have their routine practice and education sessions due to the Covid restrictions.  As with most teams this year, the pandemic can lead to a disconnect among the team. Although this is an example of a Christmas celebration, it’s importance for team building cannot be overstated.

It can be challenging on a good day to keep your team motivated and collaborating effectively.  This global pandemic has added a new twist to the game.  Not only are we struggling with distance but increased personal demands as we navigate the ever-changing restrictions placed on all aspects of our lives.  Does it mean your team has to suffer?  I don’t think so.  It just takes some creative thinking and more intentional communication and organization. Events like the virtual Christmas party shouldn’t happen only once a year. Indeed no one expects a party regularly, but connecting on a personal level needs to happen more intentionally now that people are working remotely.  Now, more than ever, we need to have the support of our work family.

tea cup with bag

Changing Employee-Experience One Teabag at a Time

The other day I saw a quote pop up on Linkedin, If I recall correctly, it was one from Simon Sinek, and part of it said the following “life is beautiful because of the people we meet,” and I couldn’t agree more. So I try to squeeze the wave of thoughts that reading those words released in this little blog to tickle your minds. It is the people in our lives that give it meaning, make it valuable and worth living. Who else would you learn from, and who else would you share all your amazing experiences in life with. Can you imagine being all alone?

Basic Human Needs

Human beings are incredibly complicated and predictable at the same time. That’s what fascinates me about human behavior. Even though there are exceptions, the majority of our society uses the same strategies and patterns to make their everyday moves and decisions.

We all share a need for appreciation and acknowledgment, and we want to grow and develop. In addition,  we all desire a level of certainty and security. Although people have the same basic needs, we all seek them in different ways, moments, levels, and forms. We look for them in other people or situations. In the end, we are still unique.

Appreciation and acknowledgment are something very delicate. But by saying good morning, you can never go wrong.  Saying “good morning” tells people, “I see you and respect you.”  Another common way to get appreciation and acknowledgment is the use of social media. We share parts of our personal journey through life, things that happen to us, and something we experience. In return, people share our stories, like them, or even love them. In some cases, it can lead to new jobs or opportunities.

Nothing replaces human contact. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, there is so much value in being able to look someone in the eyes or to share your smile when someone feels a little down or just as a token of appreciation.

Developing Relationships

You hear it everywhere around you, “We tend to get caught up in life” or “life goes by so fast.” It’s a summary that describes the urgency of valuable inter-human relationships. Meeting new people means getting to know new people. Something that is, of course, extra hard during the current Covid19-restrictions all over the world. Never the less we need to keep going; we need to be a little bit more creative and leave the well-worn paths.

The importance of getting to know people is very relevant to the work floor too. Knowing your staff is one of the most important things there is. Getting to know them takes time and effort. But if you are willing to invest that and you really listen to your employees, truly try to understand them, you can make a difference.  Because when you know them, you know which buttons to push to coach them and guide them to become the best version of themselves under all circumstances.

The Tea Bags

People that know me know I’m not really a coffee drinker, but I will take a good cup of tea any time of the day!  That brings me to a good story about the connecting value of a cup of tea. It was at the end of my first year working as a manager at GVB public transit in Amsterdam. Managing a team of tram drivers and service staff members in the city of Amsterdam came with challenges. My staff members were often on the road, moments of contact were often short and usually about their adventures during their rides (basically to let off some steam). These visits were important but too short to build a meaningful work relationship and to help get them out of their own heads during their busy schedules.  Then I figured out the value of a teabag!

My favorite Dutch tea brand Pickwick is not just any teabag.  They have a wide variety of amazing tea flavors, and no, I’m not (yet) sponsored for writing this in my blog. But what makes me an even bigger fan is the little label on the end of the string attached to the teabag because they contain questions. And I can hear you think what’s so exciting about those questions? Well, they make you feel; they are an amazing tool to connect to yourself and other people.

I remember putting the jar of teabag questions on my desk. I made this plan when staff members walked in to blow off some steam, ask a simple question, or just a visit, I would draw a question. The first person I asked laughed hard and told me she wasn’t going to answer the question. But she did ask me the question back.  As I was answering, I was kind of disappointed, not knowing that two hours later, she would walk back into the office to answer it anyhow. I was happy and thought I was on to something. The value of this little teabag was more significant than I could ever imagine. It changed how I connected to my staff members in a natural human way and got them out of their busy work bubble.

Ironically enough, the labels on their corporate teabags don’t have the questions and just show their plain logo. A missed opportunity if you ask me because the work floor offers such an amazing stage for some good conversations. And it gave me, as a manager, an important tool to approach leadership from a different perspective opening my eyes, allowing me to connect with my staff members on a different level.

When did you connect with your team for the last time? What do you do to get to know your staff?

brain

Don’t Discount Covid Brain

After a brief hiatus from writing – I am back!  While I planned a short time away for personal reasons, my extended leave was not expected.  This novel Covid-19 virus decided to attack the world and, unfortunately, made it into our home.  I must clarify that I am only a presumptive case of Covid-19.  I’m a nurse practitioner with the knowledge and resources to manage my symptoms safely at home, and I’m a bit stubborn and didn’t want to leave the comfort of my house to get tested.  That being said, I had all the classic symptoms:  sore throat, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle pain, dry/hacking cough, and a SEVERE headache.  I am a migraine sufferer and have never endured anything close to the severity of this headache.  Worse yet, no medication could take the pain away.  It’s been just over twelve weeks since I became ill.  Fortunately, I’ve recovered from most of the symptoms but I still suffer from intermittent headaches, easily fatigued, and a heightened sense of anxiety/agitation.  All of these symptoms are consistent with brain trauma, referred to as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

So I’m In the 30%

As we all know, Covid-19 is a new virus that is sending the research world into a high-pressure, time-sensitive environment. Governments are demanding data, new treatment modalities, and a vaccine for the deadly virus. As brains of the deceased are studied, and data is compiled, researchers can give us more information about the virus.  An estimated 30% of Covid-19 patients develop neurological symptoms. Initially, it was thought that the virus could not cross the blood-brain barrier meaning that it didn’t directly affect the brain.  As more data is received, however, it was discovered that it can and does cross into the brain.  This shouldn’t be a surprise as many other respiratory viruses  (influenza, measles, RSV) create havoc in the brain.

As research continues and more answers are found, there are many questions that still need to be answered.  Of special interest to me is how long will this “Covid Brain” last? I’m talking about more than the headache and fatigue here.  I’m talking about the loss of short-term memory, inability to focus, intermittent confusion, and days like yesterday that I just can’t focus on anything.  My husband asked me what I was thinking, and my reply was “nothing”.  And I meant it.  There was absolutely nothing going on upstairs.  That’s frightening for an educated, intelligent person to experience.

So Why Does This Matter?

As the world begins to re-open businesses after this virus has devastated lives and the economy, they will struggle with getting the business back on its feet.  This may mean downsizing (even if temporarily), restructuring, and for some, closing their doors forever.  But what about those staff that were infected with Covid-19?  Many of them will suffer residual effects from the brain trauma.

A healing brain is a delicate organ.  In most traumatic brain injury cases, the healing is slow, and the person may not get back to the full function they had before the injury. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough evidence with Covid-19 yet to fully understand the residual effects on the infected brain.  Fortunately, there are ways to promote healing and support your staff as they recover. Always keep in mind how frustrating this is for the person struggling to get their brain back.

Brainline.org provides some excellent tips to help your staff transition back into their position while still encouraging a healing environment.

Vision – Lighting is important – change the fluorescent lights to high intensity, white lights, and increase natural lighting.  Provide an anti-glare computer screen and large print on reading materials.

Focus– Concentration is going to be a constant struggle.  To help with this, provide a quiet work area with little distraction (a private office or work enclosure if possible).  Allow for white noise.  Break down large jobs into smaller, manageable tasks.  If necessary, restructure their role to include only the essential functions.

Fatigue – Maintaining stamina throughout the day is a challenge.  Offering flexible schedules, longer or more frequent breaks, and part-time work schedules are all viable options.  Schedule more challenging tasks at the beginning of the day, leaving more mundane tasks for the end of the day when fatigue is more likely.  Most importantly, encourage your employee to acknowledge their fatigue and rest when they are to that point, even if it means going home.

Stress– Handling stressful situations and managing emotions is more difficult while the brain is recovering. Acknowledging this includes sensitivity training for other staff and providing a positive work environment. Encourage the employee to access any available Employee Assistance Programs and coaching services.

Awareness & Acknowledgement

As a leader, it is important that you are aware of these symptoms and remember that not everyone that had Covid-19 was tested and confirmed. You may have staff that had/have the symptoms that aren’t confirmed with testing but may still suffer the long-term complications of the disease.  Acknowledging their struggles will go a long way to support them during their recovery. Hopefully, the recovery time will be a matter of weeks, but for some, it is turning into months.  This can be frustrating to management and the staff member. Patience and understanding will be key.

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Why Does Accountability Matter?

Acknowledging our mistakes is a sign of strong character. It is a primary component of accountability and is essential for effective leadership.  Accountability isn’t the same as responsibility, although the two terms are often interchanged.  We all have responsibilities at work, the tasks that make up our job.  Responsibility can be shared, divided up amongst team members.  Accountability, however, belongs to only one person.  It is what happens after an incident and how you respond and take ownership of the results.

Accountability is essential for building trust in the workplace.  If staff are worried about getting thrown under the bus or are unsure of their leader’s support in the event of an incident, they are not going to exude creativity. They will work for the company but not with the energy and passion that they would if they know that mistakes won’t end their career with the organization. Obviously, I’m not talking about repeatedly making the same stupid mistake but rather the kind that happens on occasion.

Why Is It Important?

Despite the importance of owning our mistakes, and the fact that every human makes them, it becomes more evident that so many people in positions of power are not accountable themselves.  How many of us have worked for a manager that never had our back?  Or that took credit for success but was quick to blame when something happened? Everyone knows this scenario – the real question is, how are these individuals put in any position of influence?

There are so many reasons that businesses benefit from accountable leadership.  Not only can accountable leaders quickly identify problems, but they can find solutions just as fast.  Just like other characteristics of good leadership, the other members of the team will follow suit.  Accountability will inspire accountability.   It also breeds trust and loyalty, both of which increase productivity.

When Accountability is Lacking

Of course, you can’t discount the consequences of no accountability.  When the blame game starts with management, it festers among the team.  This will no doubt create division among the staff. There are those that will accept the blame, those that will fight back, and those that will become one of the brown-nosers to the boss in hopes of avoiding the blame.  Either way, division of the team occurs.  I have seen it happen to the best of them.  Naturally, productivity declines, as does loyalty to the manager and the organization.  Whether it’s the blame game or lack of leadership, employee engagement is sure to decrease.

Lack of accountability also affects the customer experience.  Due to its profound effect on employee engagement, it will affect the way the employees treat customers.  This will lead to first-time customers not returning, regular customers not returning, and those that do leave negative reviews.  We all know that more people complain about a bad experience than shout out about the good ones.

How To Encourage It

Bent tracks

Two approaches are often taken when someone shirks accountability.  One is to ignore the problems, and the other is to remove the person from their team. Realistically, neither approach is ideal.  Ignoring the problem will likely make it more significant or recurring, and you don’t want to terminate someone or shuffle them if they have the potential to be an asset to the team.  First and foremost, lead by example.  Again, accountability inspires accountability.  Make sure that your staff has the tools and equipment needed to do their job efficiently and effectively.  Ensure that there is a continuous feedback loop.  Too often, feedback only happens when something goes wrong, but it’s essential to have feedback when things are going well.

Most importantly, provide them with an environment that makes it easy to own their mistakes.  Working in a safe environment encourages creativity and productivity.  We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, as it’s our mistakes that keep us growing.

Team Relationships

A Strong Team – Helping You Get There

Developing your team In and Out of the office.

Relationships outside of the office are as crucial to developing a strong team as team building activities held in the office.  These relationships build trust and loyalty amongst the team and with the proper leadership, to include the organization.

After having worked with a close, cohesive primary health care team for over thirteen years, we transitioned into a new building.  This move should have been an exciting opportunity for us to develop our team further and improve the care we provided to our patients; instead, it began the demise of a team that was once held in high regards by the entire province.

This transition began nearly eighteen months before the actual move date that included moving a hospital, medical clinic, and nursing home into one unified facility. Having been already a part of a high functioning team, we encouraged (or begged) for team building and preparation of staff to integrate.  This move took us out of our offices and into one “bullpen” with cubicles that were intended to increase communication.  Not only did the three facilities remain in their silos with lack of management to facilitate integration, but management actually encouraged the disintegration of our team.

Our team was like our extended family.  We developed friendships outside of work through informal team building.  These included lunch on one of our decks in the summer, Monday soup lunch together at the local senior center, birthday cakes for each staff member’s birthday, coffee breaks twice a day, celebrations of family events and support during each other’s difficult times.  These were paired with official team development in the form of quarterly meetings and weekly huddles where concerns amongst the team were brought forward in a safe environment and problem-solved by the team.

After the move, coffee breaks were a thing of the past.  Lunch breaks were staggered and rotated.  Huddles were eliminated as were any problem-solving opportunities for the team.   Decisions made by leadership not only diminished our capacity to work together as a team but decreased the interpersonal relationships that we formed outside of work.  We were not allowed time to keep up with each other.  This led to frustration, feelings of isolation, and simply missing each other, despite now sitting in the same room.  The result was a decrease in commitment to the organization and communication with management, lower productivity despite longer days, and a turnover in staff.

I genuinely hope that in the future we at Oteos can work with the region to help build this team and community’s health care back to the standard to which it was once held. I want to help my former colleagues enjoy their job again!  With just a few adjustments and some repair strategies, I believe they can get their “family” back.

How would you feel about developing relationships among the team outside of the office setting? How do you balance the personal and professional relationships?  Let me know your thoughts!