initiating change Archives

Daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she married, raised a family, and then chose to enter the field of social work and dedicate her life to serving her community.

Revered by many throughout Houston, Maconda B. O’Connor was born on May 4, 1930 and passed from this life on May 19, 2012.

The Houston Chronicle and others have listed her long list of achievements.  She received over two dozen awards and honorary degrees, served on Houston’s and the nation’s most prestigious boards, and founded or helped start innovative programs dedicated to helping people improve their lives. As Angela Blanchard, president and CEO of Neighborhood Centers Inc., was quoted as saying, “There isn’t a place to go to in this city where you can get help that she didn’t help nurture.”

A colleague introduced us while Maconda was completing her doctoral studies at Smith College. She was looking for a research project for a required internship, and the colleague suggested my grant from the National Science Foundation might meet the requirements. Maconda was immediately interested in my project and, over time, in my work. She provided or helped arrange financial support for my research every year since.

Saying she supported my work, though, doesn’t quite get what she meant to me. We became friends. I loved her – still love her — dearly. We shared a similar fire for helping others improve their lives, and for setting up systems and organizations that would foster people’s growth and development. I see the world differently because of her, approach my own work differently because of her, have a deeper commitment to what I do because of her.

For me and many others, she has been an inspiration and a model of personal achievement and success. Following are some of what we can all learn from her:
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Count me among the millions of people around the country–if not the world–who are gratified that President Barack Obama has come out today in support of marriage equality. I was similarly overjoyed when Don’t ask, Don’t Tell was repealed this past December, as I explained in the post, “With Liberty and Justice for all: DADT and Civil Rights.

While millions of us are cheering, I imagine millions of others are dismayed, believing that their cherished values have been dealt a huge blow.

I was a child when Harry Belafonte (African American) and Joan Fontaine (Caucasian) were the lead actors in the movie Island in the Sun. The film was hugely controversial and they were not allowed to kiss, because an interracial couple kissing would have violated many people’s cherished values about keeping the races separate. Miscegenation (“race-mixing”) was against the law in my state.

So while I recognize some people’s dismay at the President’s stand, my memory of what it feels like to be viewed as less than a full citizen is still too vivid for me to do more than acknowledge that this may feel like a setback to them. For me, though, this is an important victory in the march toward equal rights for all in this country.

“The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.” — Jackie Robinson

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In the previous post on the Skill of Speaking Up, a Responsible Conflict Resolution Technique, I described a case in which Yolanda, a new Latina staff member, made a suggestion at a staff meeting on how to increase their sales. She noted that she liked to spend time in small talk and relationship building before launching into the sales pitch. Jim, her White male colleague, dismissed her statement by responding, “I disagree completely. People want you to get to the point and not waste their time. All that small talk and personal stuff is so Hispanic.”

Josh, a coworker, spoke up responsibly using the three guidelines provided in the post. Not surprisingly, Jim took offense and countered to Josh, “Are you implying I’m racist?”

Jim graciously accepted Josh’s implicit disclaimer that he meant no harm, albeit acknowledging that he felt confused about what had happened. They all then went back to the meeting agenda.

That was the gist of the post. To read the full post, click here.

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Suppose you were at a meeting where one of your coworkers insults another? This is the stuff that breeds festering conflict in organizations.  What’s needed is a good conflict resolution technique.  Well-meaning people who are unfamiliar with conflict management may try one of these approaches:

  • Stay silent (after all, you are not involved)
  • Stay silent in the moment and talk to the offender privately later (this is consistent with the adage, “praise in public, criticize privately”)
  • Tell the offender in front of everyone that he’s completely out of line and explain why he is wrong
  • Change the topic so that the meeting can move on to more safe topics

If none of these options sounds satisfactory, then you’re right, there are other alternatives. We call it Speaking Up Responsibly.

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Preface: Martin Prouix, President of Pyxis and an organizational coach, posted this article on his blog, Analytical-Mind.com, this past fall. For years, I have asked students, people I coach, and sometimes even myself whether they would rather be right or effective.  Martin poses essentially the same question by asking, “is it better to be right or to be helpful.” His example on what can go wrong when trying to build effective relationships is worth sharing.

Jean

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Farewell to an Authentic Leader: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was one of my heroes. Clad in his trademark black shirt and blue jeans while presenting the latest Apple product, he gave the impression of being an authentic leader, quintessentially himself without subterfuge.

His death saddened me tremendously, even though I suspected it was eminent. As one of the millions in mourning because of his transition, I was drawn to a recent article entitled, “Why Is Everyone So Upset by Steve Jobs’ Death?

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When you see the phrase “motivators at work”, what do you think? Most people may think of things like pay or time off from work. These are external motivators. Others may think of personal characteristics such as work ethic or drive for success. These are internal motivators.

In previous posts, I described the lessons in integrity, self-regulation, and deferred gratification that Morgan, my seven-year-old granddaughter, is learning. She is developing these internal motivators through her participation in National Lemonade Day, a national event designed to teach children entrepreneurial skills and help them develop positive character traits.

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Why on earth would someone change their behavior just because you said so? And what  can you do about it?

Week after week, a manager complains to her staff about missed project deadlines. Usually, only one or two completely finish the tasks they were assigned. The others make some progress toward their weekly goals or none at all. She lectures them about taking personal responsibility for the team’s success.

An instructor gently chides students in his class for not participating more in class. As he stands in front of the classroom, looking at the 20 students clustered in rows in front of his desk, he says, “This is such a small class. We could have excellent participation if only you would talk more about the readings. If you want to advance in your careers, you need to learn to take more individual responsibility.”

A parent yells at her kid for dumping his books, jackets, and lunch box on the floor right by the door when she comes home from school every day. “This is your home,” she explains with exasperation in her voice. “When are you going to learn to take responsibility for how it looks?”

The concept of “leading consciously” implies individual responsibility — people willingly assuming conscious awareness of thoughts, emotions, and actions. Yet, individual responsibility alone won’t get us where we want to go if situational factors work against us. And lecturing others about individual responsibility is equally doomed to failure if their environment is compelling them in another direction.

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With Liberty and Justice for all: DADT and Civil Rights

With Liberty and Justice for All

I have been eagerly devouring the news bulletins on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — delighted beyond description that the repeal finally passed with bipartisan support and is now signed into law.

The similarities between this repeal and the march toward civil rights in the 50s and 60s are uncanny to me. I remember sitting on my uncle’s knee as a child, listening to him talk about serving in a segregated unit during World War II. I was too young to fully understand what he was saying, but he, my parents, and their friends all talked about what an injustice it was.  He and other brave Negro (as we referred to ourselves at the time) soldiers were willing to die for their country, yet their country denied them equal rights under the law. They had separate units, inferior equipment, inferior assignments, and were routinely insulted and harassed.

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Workplace Undercover: Suffer in silence or speak up?

Preface:  Workplace Undercover will be a recurring segment of this blog, featuring a workplace scenario and a response by a guest consultant.  The scenario below was written by Eillen Bui, our research associate.  Mary Harlan of Harlan Consulting is guest consultant for this scenario.

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The scenario: Carina was recently promoted from Operator Technician to Engineer after working at TLC Co. for 15 years. To Carina, this promotion was bittersweet. She knew that she deserved this position, but felt it should have happened long ago. She was already doing everything the Engineer’s job description entailed years ago and was very experienced. The only thing was that she never earned a degree in engineering; everything she knew, she learned from working at the company.

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Preface:  Workplace Undercover is a recurring segment of this blog, featuring a workplace scenario and a response by a guest consultant. This scenario was written by Carole Marmell. Jennifer Joyce, cofounder of LeadershipSmarts, responds. This is the second of a three-part segment.

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In the previous post, Molly, a young bank employee, had expected supportive feedback from her manager during her yearly performance appraisal. Instead her manager strongly criticized her and accused her of acting arrogant and believing she is smarter than everyone else. What can Molly do?

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Preface:  Workplace Undercover is a recurring segment of this blog, featuring a workplace scenario and a response by a guest consultant. The scenario below was written by Carole Marmell. Jennifer Joyce, cofounder of LeadershipSmarts responds. This is the first of a three-part segment.

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Molly is a 30-year-old bank employee. The bank has a very structured environment, with formal performance appraisals after every project as well as every year. The appraisals go both ways, for supervisors as well as line staff. All appraisals are done by committees consisting of supervisors and line staff. In addition, the supervisors have procedures for providing coaching and feedback to all line staff to help them advance step by step.

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From Mindless Behavior to Leading Consciously

In the last few months, I have gotten into friendly debates with others about whether it is appropriate for local school boards to ban candy and soda from their public schools in light of the alarming increase in childhood obesity.

A recent Rasmussen Reports public poll shows how controversial an issue this is.  Results indicated that 52% of the public favors the ban and 40% oppose it.  This is a case in leading consciously.

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Are you experiencing chronic stress at work — Part 2

In the previous blog entry, I asked, is  it is feasible for organizations to pay attention to their employees’ happiness and still produce results considering the tremendous pressures most organizations are under to show growth and cost savings in this economic climate.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, an online shoe store, says he wouldn’t have it any other way. I have long been a fan of Zappos, ordering most of my shoes from them for several years now.

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A recurring conversation among my friends and clients is the staggering amount of work hours that people are now putting into their jobs. I talk with people who arrive at work by 6 or 6:30 a.m. and leave by 7 or 8 that evening. Add challenging workplace dynamics to the equation and they feel burned out at home and at work.

Yet with all this economic uncertainty, most are grateful to even have jobs. Their overwork is an undiscussable they wouldn’t dream of surfacing.

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