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Diverse Wine…Random Sunday Morning Musings

unexpected_napa_winesHow important is “career” to you?

My daughter commented once that I define myself by my career.  That surprised me.  I grew up in a man’s world, had no concept of “career” and have always been primarily impassioned by my family and closest friends, followed by music and writing.  My number one concern every day was the well-being of my daughters.  As a divorced mom, I juggled a lot of roles. This is not to say that my daughter’s dad was absent in their lives.  But in our day-to-day routines, I was both mother and father, the disciplinarian one minute and the comforter for the same child the next.  Work was something I did  – well, because I had to work to pay bills.   In fact, I often think I didn’t choose my career.  My career chose me.

I never really saw myself as a manager.  My role model for work was more like my dad – a laborer who did the best he could every day in the beam yards of Bethlehem Steel.  My work ethic, my curiosity, my yearning to solve and explain the incomprehensible to others – these are the things that drove me.  My appointment to a leadership position was not expected.  I had mentors (unknown to me at the time) who recognized my capabilities, helped me to groom my skills and who then sponsored me to management.  I am eternally grateful to those men.  (And – yes, they were men.)

And I have loved what I do every day at work as a manager – because I enjoy engaging with a team; I love hearing their viewpoints, listening to their ideas, learning what they know that I don’t know and piecing together disparate and new concepts into solutions.  I love the collaboration.   And because I care about my team, about my clients, I worked long hours while my daughters were growing up; I was available 24×7 if needed, and I have had the (unexpectedly) best work experience – one I could never have imagined as a young girl growing up the daughter of an immigrant mother and 1st generation father.

And, so, in some ways, yes my career did come to define me.  The difference is this:  I don’t define myself by my career.  I am more than what anyone sees when they see me thru their lens.  I can’t be put into a box all nicely, neatly categorized and fitting tidily into one file folder – either by my children, my friends, my colleagues, or my managers.  And there’s the conundrum.  When my children look at me, they evaluate me by the actions and words they see in their isolated interactions with me.  They don’t understand what shaped those words and actions – where my values came from  – how I grew up or what motivates me.

The problem is no different in the workplace – except that in the workplace we have a responsibility to understand and accept these nuances between each other.  How difficult is that when we don’t have the same kinds of experiences or the ability to know what someone else went through on their journey to today?

When I look around at leaders who came before me, they are mostly – not all – white males that had different parents, different experiences, different education, different opportunities than I did.  They have different home life experiences today than I have today.  And their paths to success are paths I could not follow.  (Pack up my family and move to a foreign country?  Not in my realm of possibilities while raising two daughters.) And I think that’s where women and other minorities may have trouble crashing through the glass ceiling.

What I bring to the workplace is unique.  And I think it’s incumbent upon me to help leaders understand – in somewhat the way I would help my children understand – what makes me different and why my differences make me stronger.

Let’s talk.  You talk.  I’ll listen.  I’ll talk.  You listen.

Don’t judge me by what you expect.  And I promise the same to you.

We have come so far in this country in the spirit of diversity.  But it really is time to confront the final frontier — that is, not just an acceptance of, but an appreciation for diversity of thought, character, leadership styles and work styles.  There’s more than one way to create a fine bottle of wine.  And there’s more than one path to leadership.  Make a change.  Let it start with us.

To my daughters:  Hey, for all the things I have done in life, you are the best whine (er, that is, WINE) I have created.

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Back to School for a Lesson in Failure

I recently completed a 3 year project which – according to client requirements – should have been done 2 years ago. Hey, I’d like to say that good things take time! But the truth is that sometimes life – and IT project execution – is just unpredictable. And painful. But – ever the optimist – throughout the three years, I tried to find the sunny spot in the gloom of our basement project room. And today I’m asking myself “what did I learn?”

You cannot deliver on something you do not know.
Seek out experts, get training for yourself and your team. Classroom training is not enough. For me, I learned the most from my network of connections I had built over the years through my engagement in a professional community – the Americas SAP Users Group (ASUG). Collaboration with others outside of my own usual comfort zone – across companies and within my own company – helps me to shift paradigms, and, in this case, helped me to question my own design and to rethink the possibilities.

Expectations are sneaky.
Expectation – noun – a belief that someone will or should achieve something. We IT people like things that are concrete – you know, “If x, then y, else z…”. As Project Managers and Business Analysts, we follow plans and processes, carefully sequenced and timed. We define scope and lock it down. What is impossible to manage are the expectations of a variety of stakeholders – each with different concerns. In my case, Legal wanted the solution delivered fast. Business areas didn’t want productivity disrupted. Administration wanted something that would require little manual intervention (add time to the project plan here!). Human Resources wanted a solution that employees would like (add more time to the project plan). IT, of course, wanted us to stay on time and within budget. I understood all these expectations. What we missed was how difficult it would be to keep those expectations from creeping back into the project even after we had all agreed some things would simply not be done within the parameters of this project. There’s only one way (in my humble opinion) to prevent being sidetracked by expectations: that is, have one single person as the ultimate decision maker.

“Failure is delay, not defeat.” – Denis Waitley.
Despite your best laid plans and past successes, sometimes you simply fail to meet everyone’s expectations, the timeline or the budget. But I refused to admit defeat.  We missed the two scheduled release dates. We went over our original budget by a significant number. Despite the pressure from management on those two points, our team persevered in finding the right solutions. With my sense of integrity intact, I suggested a redesign of the solution – thereby removing many of the hurdles that were getting in the way of expectations — some of which were pretty important expectations. No one applauded or sent bonuses my way when we were done. But I have the satisfaction of knowing I did the very best I could and that what I delivered really did remove potential issues for our buisness.

Denis Waitly said “Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” I don’t think I can be accused of any of that. The entrepreneurial spirit in me still prefers to challenge the status quo, longs to innovate, and is okay with taking a calculated risk. I have raised two daughters who were at times scared to fail. And everyday, with every new decision they faced, I would say, “What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen if you try that?” I have never received an answer to that question from either one of them. And so now I am going to take a page from my daughter’s playbook at Blondes Have More Run  and leave us all with the following.

Excuse me now, but i have to keep going!

fearspartan

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