Reconsidering Superheroes

This post is dedicated to health care rebels working on the front lines; it is an abbreviated version of Lois’ speech at the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts’ 2017 Innovation and Star Awards ceremony.

I had dinner last week with a good friend who has worked as a hospital executive for 30 years. When I told her about today’s event, she started raving.

“These people working in home health care are amazing,” she said. “The stress, the uncertainty of one day to the next, the never knowing when budgets are going to be cut, the seriousness and complexity of patient issues. I’m telling you these health care professionals are some of the bravest people in the world. They are heroic, real life super heroes.”

I told her I disagreed.

In the face of fear or danger anyone can be brave.

Health care professionals are more than brave. You are courageous. And courage is one of the most important virtues in our world. Maybe more important now than ever before.

There are four traits that make up courage:

  1. Honesty: speaking the truth, acting in a genuine, sincere way, and taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.
  2. Perseverance: sticking with what’s important and getting things done despite obstacles.
  3. Vitality: bringing enthusiasm and energy to how you live. Not doing things half-heartedly. Feeling alive and optimistic.
  4. Bravery: not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain. Speaking up for what is right and acting on your convictions even if they’re unpopular.

Courageous people do what is right. They willfully resist taking the easy way out. They rebel against complacency and mediocrity. They keep going when most people give up.

Courageous people inspire us to be better versions of ourselves.

And this room today is jam packed with courageous people.

Honesty, perseverance, bravery, vitality. These are the traits that make us courageous. We all have these innate traits, according to psychology research. And the more we use these traits, the greater our courage becomes.

Getting out of Crazytown

But let’s not pretend there aren’t those days when stress sucks the energy from us. People quit. Budgets cut get. A patient’s family gets emotional and confrontational. Administrative paperwork follows you home. Your car blows a tire and your child is sick and you can’t get to work. Your sister gets a bad diagnosis. The basement floods and there goes the vacation money. Your life feels like Crazytown.

Anybody here ever felt like they were in Crazytown?

No one feels particularly courageous on those days. Most of us feel downright pissy.

The big question is: How do some people quickly bounce back from stressful situations and stay positive and optimistic — while others become negative, complacent, or, even worse, think of themselves as martyrs? Why do some people thrive despite life’s inevitable obstacles?

They practice resiliency.

Resiliency is simply defined as the ability to cope with stress and rebound quickly. It’s not something most of us are born with. We have to consciously develop it.

Four favorite resiliency practices

While everyone in this room knows the value of eating well, sleeping soundly and exercising regularly, there are four other resiliency practices I’d like to share with you.

They’ve truly transformed my life, helping me quickly adapt and bounce back during those personal and professional Crazytown periods

Three good things/hunt the good. Every night write down the three things that did go well during the day. Doing this helps us see the good in life, even on the Crazytown days. As importantly, it helps us look for the good every day, developing a more optimistic, positive mindset. Which, by the way is contagious.

Self-compassion/being kind to yourself: No one is harder on ourselves than ourselves. We are our toughest critics. On those tough days, I’d suggest you think of the famous Otis Redding song, and try a little tenderness. For yourself.

When our good friends are stressed and feeling down, we’re there to offer them kindness and compassionate advice. “You’re too exhausted to think. Go home and sleep for 12 hours and things will look differently when you’re rested,” we might say to her. Why not give that advice to ourselves?

Appreciating your work mates: Appreciation is the single greatest motivator at work, according to Dr. Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania. Not “have a great day” balloons or rah-rah parties. (Though some days those can be so much fun.) I encourage you all to make time twice a year, or better yet once a month, to tell your team mates what they do that makes your work so much better. Giving and receiving appreciation lifts our spirits and fills our tanks with enormously positive energy.

Be in awe: No matter what’s going on in our lives, we can stop and marvel at some small wonder in the world. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease and today he was off. My worrying lizard brain was starting to act up. I went outside and looked up at the sky finally clearing after last night’s vicious thunderstorms. The clouds looked magical. For a couple of minutes I got lost in their beauty. And got myself out of worry and into a can-do mentality. Stop. Look up and look around. There is such beauty in unexpected places.

And for good measure, know that indigenous peoples found that story telling, dancing, singing and silence are universal salves for our souls. I especially recommend the dancing and silence, two things most of us never get enough of.

Believing in Wonder Woman’s belief

To wrap up and get to the awards, I want to confess that I not only told my healthcare friend that bravery was over-rated. I told her that we shouldn’t worship heroes. No one person saves the day. It’s about courage and diverse teams of people working together, not heroics.

But then I saw Wonder Woman this weekend and think there may be room for that kind of hero.

At the end of the movie Wonder Woman says to her nemesis:

It isn’t about what you deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will save the world.

Here’s to courage and resiliency and a whole lot of love. And most of all, here’s to all of you here today. You are true wonder women and men.

Another crazy love song

Music keeps me sane, especially driving during rush hour and when I'm working on a particularly rebellious project. So when SiriusXM yanked my favorite station (The Loft) off the air for two weeks, I programmed Soul Town into my car radio and my psyche.

My first reaction to these 60’s and 70s soul classics was, “Oh, my God, how did we grow up on such a steady stream of lovelorn and often sexist music?”

Yearning, marveling, celebrating, mourning.  Talk about getting into our souls.

There was Barry White crooning, “You're my first, my last, my everything.” Aretha sitting in vain, wrapping on the door, tapping on the windowpane trying to get her guy back.  Bill Withers getting no sunshine because she went away. And The Supremes reminding us that though they set you free, they’d be therefor you no matter what, ‘cause ain't no mountain high enough to keep them from you.

For a few days I wondered whether this music was just a little too over-dramatic and dated to keep listening to.

Flip the perspective: This Song Is For You

One day as DJ Ken “Spiderman” Webb’s mellifluous voice mellowed my exasperated mood in bumper-to-by bumper traffic, I played a little head game.  What if I listened to these love songs as songs to myself instead of odes to current and lost loves?

Might flipping the perspective of these classic tunes be a way to reach out and show myself a little tenderness? Might they give me a little sunshine on a cloudy day?

And then my thoughts went to how good most of us Rebels at Work are at not being so good to ourselves. People tell me their bosses, their children, their mothers are tough on them.  But really, we’re toughest on ourselves.

There’ so much I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that we can’t help others, do our best work, or enjoy life if we don’t first reach out and comfort and care for ourselves.

Research by Dr. Kristin Neff, a University of Texas psychology professor and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself has found that people who are self-compassionate lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical. Self-compassion works better than self-esteem; it gives us a stable sense of security and self-worth and improves our motivation.

Neff recommends that we try to talk to ourselves like we would our best friends, offering advice and doling out kindness.

I’d add singing love songs to yourself.

The Loft is back but I’m not giving up Soul Town. Excuse me while I get back to Diana and Marvin:

Stop, look
Listen to your heart, hear what it's saying
Stop, look
Listen to your heart, hear what it's saying
Love, love, love

 

Your Strategy is Due for a Checkup!

A person responsible for training innovators asked me recently how he could encourage senior leaders in his government organization to think like Rebels at Work. And I said:

You probably can't!

I just don't know too many leaders in government who are are ready to embrace their inner heretic. And approaching them directly about the need to think rebelliously is likely to lead to defensiveness.

So I suggested a different tack. Ask them:

How do you know when your tactics and strategy need refreshing?

I've yet to meet anyone who has a ready answer to that question. Or this one...

What's your process for determining when your strategic plan needs to change?

When people think about it, sometimes they volunteer that their strategic plans are refreshed at the start of their fiscal years and/or when a new senior leadership team takes over. 

Now isn't that the darndest thing? Why should thinking about how things might need to be done differently be a function of the calendar? Conditions can change at a moment's notice and at any time of the year. The necessary adjustments your team needs to make might not wait twelve months...or perhaps not even thirty days. We all know that organizations that adjust more quickly to changing circumstances have a competitive advantage, and yet most don't have a method for doing so.

And that's where Rebels at Work step in. If employees on your team are encouraged to speak up when they see trouble looming or a new opportunity coming, your organization is likely to be more nimble and more successful. Along with that agility comes an added benefit: the annual strategic refresh need not be as discombobulating. Or perhaps need not occur at all. 

 

So let's add this to the list of good questions to ask in organizations.

How do we know when our strategy needs refreshing? 

Rebels at Work can help!

Creativity & Risk-Taking

Here's a recent talk I gave to graduate students at Emerson College about the need to practice courage to become more creative and take more risks.  A student's comment:

My supervisor once asked, why are you so rebellious. I didn't know how to react to such comment, and now I know I was being courageous to speak up.

 

 

United We Fail?

By now I'm sure you've read and been appalled by the story currently destroying United Airline's reputation. An overbooked flight, not enough passengers accept a $400 voucher--eventually raised to $1000, and the next thing you know a passenger already seated is forcibly removed from the plane. And of course in this day and age, several passengers take pictures and post the dreadful details. I just read an article by an airline pilot explaining what he thinks happened. (He also reports an overlooked fact--the flight in question was being operated by United Express--a contractor--and not United Airlines itself.) He makes this particularly astute observation.

What I sense is that the airline’s staff reached a point, after perhaps offering whatever dollar amounts their procedures called for, where they simply didn’t know what to do, and nobody was brave enough, or resourceful enough, to come up with something. Summoning the police simply became the easiest way to pass the buck.

Aha! There's more than one "EN" infecting employees in large organizations right now. We hear all the time about ENGAGEMENT, which hasn't improved at all in recent years. But EMPOWERMENT is engagement's kissing cousin. The pilot goes on to say:

...Airline culture is often such that thinking creatively, and devising a proverbial outside-the-box solution, is almost actively discouraged. Everything is very rote and procedural, and employees are often so afraid of being reprimanded for making a bad decision (not to mention pressed for time) that they don’t make a decision at all, or will gladly hand the matter to somebody else who can take responsibility. By and large, workers are deterred from thinking creatively exactly when they need to.

Doing things by rote is not without its benefits for high risk, high performance organizations. Such organizations--airlines, hospitals, the military come to mind--engage in important tasks that must be done with Six Sigma levels of reliability. Substandard performance doesn't just affect the bottom line; it entails significant risk for the organization and, more importantly, for others! As someone who flies 100k miles per year, I applaud the safety standards of the airline industry. But the downside of the "checklist" approach to organizational excellence is that it blinds everyone to the exceptional situation that must be handled in a better and non-rote way.

Of course, this is when those pesky Rebels in the workplace can come in handy. Perhaps there was an employee at the gate who had a better idea. But my guess is he didn't know how to speak up. Perhaps she was low in the pecking order, a new employee? Maybe past suggestions had been ignored? Or just maybe the go-along-to-get-along culture was so strong that no second thoughts entered anyone's mind. In some ways that's even worse. The employees were so unengaged and so unempowered that they had stopped thinking.

And isn't that the worst risk ANY ORGANIZATION can run? When EVERYONE is on the SAME PAGE, no one is available to turn it. The most important checklist any high risk, high performance organization can develop is the one that helps employees know when they must abandon Standard Operating Procedures. You can't leave this up to the personal courage of the employee; it's something that teams need to talk about and leaders need to facilitate. Together...or united they will fail.

Are you solving the right problem?

It’s discouraging and frustrating to work tirelessly on solving what you think is an important issue and nothing happens. Despite brilliant thinking, smart teammates, and innovative solutions, the organization never fully embraces the new approach.

There are a lot of reasons why good ideas never get adopted. Sometimes they’re not critical to the organization’s goals, require too many resources, or scare the managerial keepers of the status quo.

But there’s another reason that’s rarely acknowledged: we’re trying to solve the wrong problem.

Defaulting to tactical fixes: a sad, but true story

More specifically, we go after creating tactical solutions – new systems, processes, behavioral ways to do the work – when the real problem is an underlying belief or mindset issue.

It’s the old iceberg model: we try to fix the 10% of work that’s visible instead of addressing the invisible issues under the surface.

Let me share a story to illustrate.

A few years ago an executive of a large, global company told me that the company’s marketing and communications organizations weren’t collaborating. Hundreds of people seemed to either being doing slightly redundant work or certainly not working as efficiently or creatively as they could be.

The siloes did their annual plans every year and sent them up through their hierarchies to the president, who clearly saw overlaps and missed opportunities.

I was asked to help the two organizations break down their organizational barriers. The immediate goal: develop one integrated plan for the coming fiscal year.

We used Art of Hosting and The Circle Way techniques to identify shared purpose, establish common goals, and have conversations in new ways so that everyone was heard. We created simplified, shared planning templates. There were raucous, collaborative sessions where people worked intently and with good intentions. The thinking was smart; the output was strategic and creative. Great relationships were formed.

But after that one planning cycle, people slid back into their own silos where marketing and communications each did their thing, apart from the “governance” committee meetings that were in reality lipstick on the collaboration pig.

While people gained a new appreciation of one another and the diverse roles in each organization, the goal to create new processes and open communication was a dud.

Uncovering the real problem

After 18 months I was called in to facilitate a session with just four executives – two from marketing and two from communications to figure out “how to fix this collaboration problem.”

Sensing that there was a deeper underlying issue, I led the executives through creating an Immunity to Change map to see if there were assumptions and beliefs holding people back from achieving their goal of working together.

Immunity to Change, developed by Harvard School of Education professors Robert Keegan and Lisa Lahey, is a diagnostic tool that pinpoints individual beliefs and organizational mindsets that make us immune to seeing what’s really stopping us from achieving our most important goals.  Just as our body becomes immune to disease, our mind can become resistant to certain types of change.

By making these immunities visible you begin to see root causes -- and can then focus on solving the right problems.

What was revealed among the corporate executives: the marketing people believed that they and their staffs were much smarter than the communications teams.

That’s why marketing didn’t want to collaborate. They felt they were the strategic, creative minds and the communications people were tactical and lacking in an understanding of the business issues.

It was a painful session and oddly freeing. Now the real work could begin.

Be a problem identifier vs. just a problem solver

One of the most valuable things Rebels at Work can do for our organizations is to identify the real problems.

While problem solving is valuable, problem identification is foundational.

And one of the most valuable things we can do for ourselves is to identify what might be holding us back from being confident, effective Rebels. Motivation is valuable. Clearing away beliefs that limit our influence is bliss.

**********

 

For more information on Immunity to Change, go to Minds at Work, the consulting firm founded by Drs. Kagan and Lahey  or read the book, which explains the research on resistance to change, how to create an immunity map, and how individuals and organizations have used the process to unlock what’s holding them back from making important changes.

If anyone is interested in participating in a special Immunity to Change training for Rebels at Work, send Lois an email: Lois@RebelsatWork.com.  If we can get enough people, we’ll make it happen.

Rebels in Government!

These are difficult times for civil servants. Some have asked us to reflect on what advice Rebels at Work has for federal employees. We offer the following dos and don’ts with a big dose of humility and an even bigger degree of caution. I imagine that everyone will find our advice to be unsatisfactory to some degree: We don’t go far enough or we go way too far. But somewhere along the way we hope our readers will find at least one tidbit that helps them.

DOS

Do Sharpen your Bureaucratic Skills. If there’s a time to get smart about how bureaucracies work, now is it. Whenever there is a new administration, incoming political appointees try to enact procedures without sufficient regard for or even knowledge of existing laws and regulations. It’s the DUTY of civil servants, of legacy staff to point out the landmines. Ill-conceived government actions make the US Government vulnerable to lawsuits and public ridicule. They also have the potential to weaken our democracy.

Do Your Job! Don't be so distracted by the current political brouhaha that you do not adequately perform your basic duties. If you are a supporter of President Trump, you do him no favors by putting politics first. And the same goes for opponents. In fact, your partisan views should have no bearing on the performance of the duties of your office. This is the essence of federal civil service.

Do Write Everything Down! As civil servants you have rights and protections. If you find yourself dealing with a difficult manager, or if you are asked to take actions that you believe are unwise or perhaps even illegal (more on that later!), document as best you can everything that happens. And share the particulars with someone you trust. It’s probably unwise to store this documentation on your government computer. Perhaps you can dedicate a favorite notebook to keeping your paper trail. Be sure you don’t improperly store or keep government documents and/or sensitive information, however. If management is out to get you, they are sure to use any simple mistakes against you--no matter how innocent or trivial.

Do Monitor your Emotional Well-Being. Right now the hardest-hit government Agency appears to be EPA but employees in all federal departments and agencies will be challenged in the months and years to come. Pay attention to the emotional costs. Forego that extra drink after work. Take a vacation or a strategic mental health day. Don’t take it out against your family or friends.

DON'TS

Don’t Confuse your Partisan Views with your Official Duties. The Civil Service oath demands that federal employees defend the Constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of their office. The US political system would collapse if Federal employees believed their authority superseded that of the American people. That said, you are well within your rights to argue against a policy decision or an interpretation of the law that you believe unwise or counterproductive. But if you don't win the argument and unless you believe you are being asked to do something illegal, your job is to execute policies regardless of whether you agree with them.  For you own mental well-being, however, it’s important to understand your own personal red lines. Under what conditions would I resign from government service? Under what conditions would I go to the Inspector General? Get smart about the Whistleblower provisions in your agency.

Don’t Do it Alone. Allies are one of the most critical success factors for Rebels at Work. There will be many in your workplace who think and feel like you do. Find them and collaborate. Share best practices. Avoid mistakes made by others. You can develop a powerful information network in your workplace.

One Last Thing. We at Rebels at Work often poke fun at bureaucrats. And yet it is often the relentless thoroughness of people making sure all the i's are dotted and Oxford commas removed that preserves due process and the rule of law. As I write Sunday evening, the executive order on immigration is being criticized, even by supporters, for not having been properly vetted and coordinated within the vast US Government bureaucracy.

Take heart, all ye Bureaucratic Black Belts. Your time may have come!!

May the Force be With You!

For those of you who subscribe to our newsletter--not quite monthly but we think always interesting, you have probably already read my reflections on the death of Carrie Fisher. But if you haven't, I'm repeating them below along with some additional thoughts.  

When I was at CIA, the band of plucky intelligence officers who thought the Agency needed to change took to calling ourselves The Rebel Alliance. We would amuse ourselves by imagining which of us represented the different characters in Star Wars. (And also who in the CIA really was Darth Vader!) Just for the record I never thought of myself as a Princess Leia. More of the Yoda type actually.
When Carrie Fisher died just before Christmas, I was struck yet again by the significance of the Star Wars iconography and the importance of the Princess Leia character to my own Rebel at Work experience. Being a Rebel required patience, smarts, and a bias for action.

But many years later I began to appreciate how fact was more interesting than fiction, and that the actual person Carrie Fisher was even more of a Rebel role model. Tough as nails, always honest with others and with herself, Carrie Fisher was also someone who got things done. She advocated for mental health, wrote several books, and was brought in by Hollywood studios to fix the scripts of troubled movies. She reportedly performed wonders for many successful films and yet was never publicly credited for her work.

That kind of sounds familiar, doesn't it. So often the good we do as rebels is not acknowledged; our ideas are appropriated by others. And yet we rebel on. It's the results that matter.

Another aspect of Carrie's life that should resonate with all Rebels at Work is that it didn't appear to be easy. Among her long list of quotable aphorisms is this one:

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

Now there speaks someone who has learned from less-than-optimum experiences. If something horrible happens to you, don't waste it by not learning from the experience. Advancing new ideas in old workplaces will test you emotionally and physically. We know this not only because we have lived it but because we're reminded of it every time we meet with Rebels in the public and private sector. And many of you have told us that you want to hear more about how Rebels can take better care of themselves and become more resilient. Too often business and self-help books promise you that things will be easy if you just follow their rules. Lois and I know being a Rebel at Work is always challenging but it can also be survivable. Or to use the word Carrie Fisher coined: We can all still sur-thrive!
And finally our favorite piece of advice from Carrie Fisher:

Stay afraid but do it anyway. What's important is the action. You don't have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.

Advice for having difficult conversations

Everywhere Carmen and I speak people tell us that one of their top challenges is having difficult conversations.

One of the best sources for learning to have difficult conversations is the Harvard Negotiation Project and the book from faculty members Doug Stone, Sheila Heen and Bruce Patton, aptly titled "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most."

My biggest takeaway from the book is that we can't change someone's mind in a conversation. No matter how skilled you think you may be. Not going to happen.

The purpose of a conversation is to create mutual understanding of an issue so that you can both figure out the best way forward.  In other words, the  goal is to genuinely figure out what's important to the other person and express what's important to us. That's how shifts and change begin to happen.

I encourage you to read --no, devour and highlight -- this book. It will not only make you more effective at work, your personal relationships are likely improve, too.

Until then, here are my book highlights to get you thinking in some new ways.

CONTEXT

Biggest mistakes

  • Blaming: it inhibits our ability to learn what’s really causing the problem and to do anything meaningful to correct it.
  • Believing it’s their fault: when things go wrong in relationships, everyone has contributed in some important way.
  • Assuming we know the intentions and feelings of others.
  • Avoiding the problem is one of the biggest contributors to a problem.
  • Not preparing, rushing, catching someone off guard.
  • Not acknowledging feelings.

Important realities

  • Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations and values.
  • They are not about what is true; they are about what is important.
  • What happened is the result of what BOTH people did – or failed to do.
  • Difficult conversations don’t just involve feelings; they are at their core about
  • The two most difficult and important things are expressing feelings and listening. (And our ability to listen increases once we’ve expressed our feelings.)
  • When a conversation feels difficult it’s because something beyond the substance of the conversation is at stake for YOU.
  • People almost never change without first feeling understood.
  • Don’t share your conclusions as “the” truth; explain what’s behind your thinking.
  • When conversation goes off track reframe it to focus on mutual goals and issue at hand.

HAVING THE CONVERSATION

Prepare

  • What do you hope to accomplish? What’s the best outcome?
  • Is a conversation the best way to address the issue? (Sometimes what’s difficult has a lot more to do with what’s going on inside of you than what’s going on between you and the other person. So a conversation won't actually help. You've got to do some inner work.)
  • Plan a time to talk. Don’t do it on the fly.

How to start

  • Reduce the other person’s anxiety! Don't put them on the defense.
  • Describe the issue in a way that rings true for both sides and is free of judgment, e.g., We seem to have different assumptions and preferences for how to accomplish work we both feel is important.  I wonder whether it’s possible for us to look at the best approaches in view of what we want to achieve.

Explore: their views and yours

  • Listen and explore their perspectives, asking questions, acknowledging feelings, paraphrasing so the person knows you’ve heard them.
  • Express your views and feelings: what you see, why you see it that way, how you feel and who you are. Begin with the heart of the matter for you, e.g., “What is important to me is…”

Problem solve and figure out best way forward

  • Figure out the best way forward that satisfies both of your needs.
  • Talk about how to keep communication open as you move forward

GOOD QUESTIONS TO USE

  • What did we each do -- or not do -- to get ourselves into this mess?
  • Can you say a little more about how you see things?
  • What’s most important to you about this situation?
  • What information might you have that I don’t?
  • How do you see it differently?
  • Were you reacting to something I did?
  • How are you feeling about all of this?
  • What would it mean to you if that happened?
  • How do you see the situation differently?
  • Help me understand how you would feel and how you might think about the situation if you were in my shoes. What would you do and why?

First Followers

"Wow, that would be amazing for us to do. It could really change how we work together,"  concurred a group of managers at one of the biggest technology companies in the world last week.

"But it's just not how our culture works," someone said.

Then the grumbling about the culture began until, as the strategy facilitator, I cut the naysaying short and asked, "Why couldn't this group start working differently and then open the way for others to follow?  Change has to start somewhere. Why not you? You view yourselves as creative and innovative."

Someone has to start, having the guts to stand alone.

And someone has to be the first to follow, also an act of leadership.

Both are acts of positive Rebels at Work.

That's how culture changes and movements start.

Dare to start or be the first follower.

Get Your Lipstick On: A Rebellious New Year Wish

Some people say listen to your body for what it needs. I say watch the shade of lipstick you’re buying to find out what you want or need.

Over the lazy holiday break a new lipstick urge came over me one day. When this flares up I fall into a black hole of reading beauty bloggers for hours, looking at colors, figuring out which ones won’t dry out my lips, and considering which colors will go with my favorite clothes. Then I order two and wait for Sephora to deliver.

Unlike many friends, I don’t trust the department store makeup people to tell me which colors are most flattering. I value advice on taxes, health and investing. When it comes to lipstick, love and the pursuit of happiness, I listen to my inner goddess, who sounds a lot like the late, great actress Ruth Gordon. Bold, brave, courageous, opinionated and occasionally shameless.

Before choosing new colors for 2017, I opened the medicine cabinet to see what I had. I found the names of my standard favorites sound a lot like Ruth, er, I mean me. (See photo) I’ve never selected lipsticks based on their names, only their color. (OK, I also consider whether they’ll keep my lips moist, be easy to apply without a mirror, and won’t bleed into those tiny, annoying lines around my lips.)

But this week I’m realizing that the lipsticks we choose may tell us what we want and need. How we want to show up in the world.

Why aren’t you wearing lipstick for me?

Years ago a boyfriend asked why I wasn’t wearing red lipstick for him.

“First of all, I wear lipstick for myself, not for anybody else,” I told him. “Second of all, what I wear subconsciously says how I’m feeling.” I was wearing “Radish,” a kind of peachy pink. The relationship went nowhere.

When I had just turned 40 my father asked me why I wasn’t wearing any lipstick. “You look better with a little lipstick,’ he gently said.

Before my “oh-my-god-is-my-father-a-sexist” brain spewed unkind words my father added, “You look more like you with lipstick.”

Alrighty, then.

Showing up

Lipstick should be about making us feel more like us. (And if it makes you feel icky, don’t wear it! )

Don’t wear it to impress, conform, or hide. But using it to play, find pleasure and fill your heart with mischief and possibilities is highly recommended.

In this morning’s New Year’s Day Journey Dance Joan showed up wearing a beautiful, bold shade of red lipstick with a sparkly silver and gold top. The kind of top you might wear to a New Year’s Eve party. But here it was 10 a.m. and Joan, who is probably 40 years older than some of the other dancers, was lighting the room with an inspiring confidence and grounded wisdom.

I asked Joan the name of her red lipstick, but she had no idea. Only that it suited her. If I had to give it a name I would call it “Just Red.” Because Joan exudes a kind of integrity, self-compassion and no-nonsense attitude.

2017: Kiss and insoumise

My new lipsticks won’t arrive for another week, but I think they’ll be right for 2017. As always, I chose by the colors. But the lipstick names reveal my New Year’s wishes.

I went with the Dior Addict line and chose two pinky/rose colors, named Kiss and Insoumise.

I suppose Kiss is for “If you think strong women are going to take your bullshit, you can Kiss my ass, you conservative, male politicians with too much dicktitude.” Or maybe it’s about Kissing the sky with gratitude, kindness and optimism. Or Kissing those whom I love so very much.

Insoumise was a surprise and not a surprise. A surprise because I really had no idea what it meant when I put it in my shopping cart. Not a surprise because it’s the French word for “rebelliousness.” And I do so love my work helping Rebels at Work find their voice and create positive change.

So today I send a a rebellious New Year’s kiss to you — and wish you joy in wearing lipstick that lights up your soul and helps you bring your voice to the world.

Amplify Courage

amplify-courage

Courage helps us challenge what no longer works, fight for better ways, achieve more than we thought possible and overcome all the stress and unexpected land mines that are thrown in our paths.

How do you become more courageous? These four strengths amplify our courage. The more you use and develop them, the stronger they become.

How have you used each one to overcome challenges?

How could you use them more in 2017?

(These same questions are useful to use in team planning, as well.)

1. Perseverance: finishing what you start; persevering in a course of actions despite obstacles.

2. Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty; speaking up for what's right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular.

3. Vitality: approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated.

4. Integrity: speaking the truth but more broadly acting in a genuine and sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for your feelings and actions.

The Curly Hair Rebel Manifesto

A woman came up to me a couple of weeks ago after I spoke on a panel about Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Sector. She was in her 20s, just trying to start her career. She kept applying for jobs, getting to the final round of interviews, but not getting hired, and was hoping I could give her some advice about getting over that final hurdle. She told me that she had even considered straightening her naturally curly hair in hopes of making a better impression.

"WHAT?!?"

Her university career counselor had suggested she do that because, presumably, curly hair is not consistent with a serious National Security demeanor.

I had no words...I was with another experienced veteran of the intelligence community. She had tears in her eyes.

How can this still be the case? How can completely irrelevant attributes of individuals impede their ability to contribute to organizations that badly need their help?

Let me get something off my curly hair.carmenpicture I'm not fond of the phrase "Diversity and Inclusion." Diversity has become the word we use to refer to minorities, thereby implying that only they can bring different opinions to the table. When in reality we are all diverse, curly-haired and straight, and should be heard when we have something to say.

And don't talk to be about Inclusion. I don't need to be included.

I BELONG.

Rebels at Work do not need to be included. We belong. Many organizations still don't appreciate that, but they're on notice now that the Harvard Business Review has recognized that organizations overvalue conformity.

I'm thinking many rebels have some type of "curly hair" in their background. They differ in some way from the norm in their organization: they think differently, they have an unusual academic degree, they're square pegs in round holes.

Don't let others persuade you that your DIFFERENCE is a PROBLEM.

Your DIFFERENCE is your SUPER POWER.

Own it. Wear it. Use it!

The Sting of a Rebel Win

show-up One of the most popular questions Carmen Medina and I get asked during our Rebels at Work talks is: “What happens when your boss takes your idea and doesn’t give you credit for it?”

Our response: When someone takes your idea that’s a Rebel Win. It means your good idea is moving forward.

Yet we should probably spend more time acknowledging the disappointment and sting that can come when we don’t get credit for our ideas, and suggest some ways to bounce back and not become all angry and kind of pissy,

Like what started happening to me this morning when five friends forwarded an email from Harvard Business Review announcing “The Big Idea from HBR: Rebel Talent.”

Are you kidding me — how are you not in the center of this? This should be by YOU!!!!

What the what?? Seems like you should be leading this webinar

The email was from the editor of Harvard Business Review, with whom Carmen and I met exactly three years ago to pitch him on the idea of publishing our Rebels at Work book. He loved the idea, shared his personal experiences being a lifelong Rebel at Work, and forwarded our manuscript on to the acquisitions editor, who rejected it.

So here’s the Rebel Win: he’s moving the Rebels idea forward, with all the credibility that Harvard brings to stodgy leaders whose organizations can benefit so much from helping their rebel thinkers thrive.

And here’s the Rebel Sting: he’s never acknowledged any of our ideas or work.

What’s a Rebel to do?

I admit I did stew for an hour this morning, and then used these Rebel Practices to break out of my mental Crazytown. Maybe some of these practices will help you next time someone takes credit for your idea.

1. Name the emotion: when you’re angry, name the feeling out loud. This diminishes the power of the emotion over us and let’s us think more clearly and logically. This two-minute video from psychologist Paul Furey, “How To Ruin a Really Good Idea,” is especially helpful.

2. Dodge thinking traps: ask these quick questions from Karen Reivich, author of The Resiliency Factor, to avoid spiraling into negative thinking traps that are rarely accurate or helpful.

  • What is a more accurate way of seeing this?
  • What other outcome is possible?
  • What might be one other possible explanation?

When I asked myself these questions I saw the situation differently: the Harvard attention on Rebel Talent is a potentially huge boost for rebels, and the purpose of Rebels at Work is to help Rebels succeed, not get attention for our writing or ideas or book. Reframing provides clarity and creates positive energy.

I also considered that the editor had forgotten us and our meeting and sent him an email offering to write an HBR blog post with some of our new research.

3. Lean on your signature character strengths: the field of positive psychology has identified 24 universal character traits that all of us have, some much stronger than others. (You can take this free scientific assessment from the VIA Institute on Character to uncover your top strengths.)

When we use our top signature strengths we decrease stress and increase our wellbeing.

Three of my top strengths are honesty (speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way), creativity (thinking of novel and product ways to conceptualize and do things) and bravery (No shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain; speaking up for what’s right even if there’s opposition.)

Today I’m thinking about how to better serve Rebels at Work (honesty, creativity, bravery), writing this post (honesty), and developing a new master class on resiliency (creativity). I’m in the flow, feeling good about my work despite a not-so-positive start to the day.

4. Avoid flirting with the Dark Side: This is one of Carmen’s favorite pieces of advice. Things get dark for rebels, she advises, when their only goal is to advance their own agenda. Your ideas are important, but more important than any single idea is the creation of an organizational ecosystem that is hospitable to honest reflection and change.

Permission to be human

painful-emotions

One last bit of wisdom comes from Tal Ben-Shahar, one of the foremost experts in the field of positive psychology and author of Happier:

Give yourself permission to be human, accepting your positive and negative emotions. Repressing intense emotions actually intensifies them.

So if your boss takes your idea and you get no credit, let yourself be pissy and angry for a while. Go for a walk. Listen to music you love. Watch a good movie. Turn off the monkey mind.

Then consider your purpose and narrative as a Rebel.

Many of us are firestarters and idea igniters.

By the time the world is ablaze and buzzing about our idea seedlings, we are onto exploring what’s next.

Adelante, dear Rebels. The world needs us more now than ever before.

Rebel Learnings

This summer I had an opportunity to talk to many rebel audiences--I know Lois did as well. And as usual we learned a ton from people we spoke with. So much is worth passing on. So let's get right to it. The EGO. One of the groups I spoke to was the NextGen Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. It's a conference put on by GovLoop for civil servants at every level--federal, state, local. Lois and/or I have spoken to the group several times now and I wish I could say that the situation for rebels in government has improved. From the questions I got, not much. I was sharing our learning that for a rebel one of the best things that can happen is for someone else to take credit for their idea. In fact, we believe that a priority for all rebel change agents is to make your idea their idea. Many participants didn't like my advice. At all! Getting any kind of personal recognition in their bureaucracy is so difficult, the idea of voluntarily eschewing it struck them as NUTS. After I spoke, a sympathetic person came up to me and said:

Carmen, to avoid this reaction, next time why don't you just say that rebels need to remember that it needs to be less about them and more about their idea. And leave it at that!

Admitting you're not perfect. Similarly, the NextGen audience balked at my suggestion that rebels avoid false confidence when presenting their ideas. You should admit that your idea is imperfect and invite others to make it better. Again, many in the audience noted that the culture in their organization demanded confidence at all times. Acknowledging uncertainty is a cultural mistake and could even cost your group in that nutty competition for resources that occurs in so many bureaucracies. So you do have to calibrate how receptive your organization is to honest talk and how high its penchant for delusion. Maybe your candor can only occur in one-on-one or small group situations.

These next two ideas come from a conversation I had last month with Brice Challamel, a fellow rebel whom you can see in our learning video, Be a Brave, Big-Hearted Rebel at Work. He believes that an occupational hazard for Rebels at Work is the loss of perspective on their ideas. Rebels can do a better job at self-editing themselves with two simple tricks:

Develop some criteria to evaluate your ideas. For example, maybe you will only go forward with ideas that would benefit your immediate boss and improve conditions for other units in your organization, not just your own section. So as you sift the wacky ideas in your head, you have a basis for putting aside some and proceeding with others. And along those lines...

Limit the number of ideas. A real hazard for rebels is that they become known as flighty, jumping from one idea to another without ever seeing one through. Tell yourself that you can only advance two or three suggestions at a time. This then becomes another criteria by which to evaluate your thinking. It also will make you more effective by concentrating your energies and that of your supporters.

I hope some of these ideas will help you.

Happy Rebelling!