Put eight gorillas in a room (or how corporate culture is created)

812Imagine this…you’ve got eight gorillas in a room with a bunch of bananas hanging from the ceiling and a ladder under the bananas.

The gorillas will race to climb the ladder to get the bananas, right?

Now imagine this: every time a gorilla starts up the ladder, you spray him with a fire hose. The gorillas learn pretty quickly to quit trying to reach those bananas!

Then, remove one of the original gorillas and replace him with a new gorilla.

The first thing the new gorilla will do is head up the ladder for those bananas. The next thing that will happen is the seven veteran gorillas will grab him and drag him down.

Then, one by one, remove another veteran gorilla and replace him with a new gorilla.

Here’s what you’ll end up with — eight gorillas that have never been sprayed with a fire hose, yet they’ll make no attempt to go near the bananas. But the real issue is that they don’t even know why!

So why am I talking about gorillas and bananas? Because this little parable shows you how corporate culture is created and passed on over time.

WHAT IS CORPORATE CULTURE?

The first thing to know is that your company has a corporate culture whether you have intentionally articulated it or not. Your business has a personality, just like every individual has a personality.

Corporate culture is not what YOU say it is…it’s a minestrone soup made from what OTHERS say about your business.

It’s what employees say to each other in the parking lot or over a beer. It’s what they say to friends and family. It’s what customers say when they talk ABOUT your business, not just TO you. It’s what vendors say about how it is to do business with you.

Your corporate culture is shaped by your values and your own behavior. You might say you want a culture of teamwork, initiative and respect. But are your actions consistently congruent with those values? You can write anything you want on a piece of paper and call it your values, but your true values are what you live.

TAKE 100% RESPONSIBILITY

So when you think about your corporate culture, the first place to look is in the mirror. Take a good look at yourself, then take 100% responsibility for the corporate culture you are creating.

There are no right and wrong values that make up your culture. (Well…I take that back. Aspiring to a culture of deception or dishonesty wouldn’t be very smart, would it?)

What I mean is that each business is different. Let’s say you run a marketing firm. Creativity and imagination would be important. But let’s say you run a pharmacy. I’m not sure I’d want to shop at a pharmacy that got creative with my prescriptions! But accuracy and precision would be important.

As a consultant and coach, it’s not up to me to decide or advise what your corporate culture SHOULD be. I have one client who is an absolute perfectionist. Perfection gives her a competitive advantage in her industry. I support that. I have another client who wants a culture of fun. I support that too.

However, I do suggest that you think very deeply about your corporate culture and what you’d like it to be. Once it’s established it’s very difficult to change. When you get clear on the culture you’d like to create, then make sure you live that out in your words and actions.

If you want a company with ambitious gorillas who reach for those bananas, then think twice before you spray them with a fire hose.

I’d love to learn more about your corporate culture. Tell me in the Comments section about the culture in your business, and how you created it.

Leadership for women entrepreneurs

leadership for women entrepreneursIn my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have thought that Sean Connery could be the source of any insight for me, relevant to leadership for women entrepreneurs. After all, he’s got a quite reputation as a misogynist, right?

So I surprised myself when I saw a learning opportunity through his role in the movie The Untouchables.

The movie tells the story (somewhat fictionalized) of how treasury agent Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner, assembles a hand-picked team to bring Chicago crime boss Al Capone to justice. In a city consumed by corruption, Ness is determined, but idealistic.

That’s where Sean Connery comes in. He’s a wise, older cop with the street smarts that Ness lacks.

Ness will rant and rave about what Capone is getting away with and how the corruption within the police force itself is making it impossible to catch him. Each time he vents his frustrations about Capone being so elusive, Sean Connery looks him in the eye and says, “So what are you prepared to do about it?”

His words are tough and intended to provoke.

There were no easy answers in 1920’s Chicago. Ness was blocked at every turn and had to make tough choices and take risks. Connery was simply confronting him with one simple reality: you can keep complaining or you can do something about it. But you can’t do both.

What are you prepared to do about it?

I had to ask myself that question recently. I’d been ruminating on a business challenge that had me…well…stuck. One thought led to another, which led to another. There were too many moving parts and I found myself going in circles.

But more than that, I found myself complaining about it every time I got together with my closest friends. I was like a broken record. When I look back on it, I’m surprised they were even willing to have dinner with me!

Then I remembered Connery’s character, the crusty old street cop, saying bluntly to Elliot Ness, “What are you prepared to do about it?”

That memory propelled me into action. I still don’t have the issue resolved one hundred percent, but at least I have forward movement.

I’ve seen and heard plenty of business problems and complaints in my work with women entrepreneurs.

  • I can’t afford to hire good people.
  • I never seem to have time to do what’s important.
  • My employees just aren’t motivated.
  • I just can’t seem to get organized.
  • My employees won’t work as a team.
  • I want my business to grow but the marketing people aren’t effective.

Leadership for women entrepreneurs

We can all benefit from talking over the problems and challenges we face; getting input and fresh perspectives is smart. But as women entrepreneurs, in the end, we have to act.

It’s tough to face the reality that we do have choices. Even if all our choices are ugly, frightening or risky, we do have choices.

If what we have been doing (which might be nothing!) isn’t working, making excuses won’t help. It’s time to get out of the rut and do something different. And that likely means coming out of our comfort zone.

The authors of The Oz Principle (a great book about accountability) have a powerful line. “Success comes down to one simple principle. You can either get stuck or get results. Period. Case closed.”

Are you stuck in your business? Your life? A relationship?  Do you face tough choices?

Take a cue from Sean Connery.

What are you prepared to do about it?

Take care,

Darcie Harris

 

 

Thrive: Leadership for Women EntrepreneursP.S. How much can your revenues increase in just one year if you can get unstuck and grow your business?

  • I bet that very likely you didn’t get special training in “how to be a woman entrepreneur.”
  • I bet that despite the “marketing smile” you wear in public, you don’t feel as confident as you look.
  • I bet you have dreams for your business, that you want it to grow. But sometimes you just feel stuck. And alone.

So I created a 7-session e-course specifically designed to help women get unstuck. Think of it like “The owners’ manual for women entrepreneurs.”

THRIVE! How to Get Unstuck and Grow Your Business

This e-course can help you close the gap between your dreams and your results.

It’s not sexy. It’s not glamorous. It’s the real stuff. It’s step-by-step learning to help you to learn the tools and the process to:

  • bring out the best in others,
  • get effective execution and
  • create a culture of accountability.

Tell me more...

Should I stay in Hawaii or go home?

I bet it was the Joni Mitchell song I heard that triggered this long-ago memory from the ‘70’s…

personal mission statementI was in Hawaii with a young man (well, that’s a stretch–he was a boy then, he’s a boy today) that I’d fallen “madly in love” with when I was about fourteen. His name was Jim St. Pierre (don’t you love the romantic ring to that?).

Now I was 20, he was 21. We stayed with Jim’s friend who was in the army and had the unbelievable good fortune of getting stationed in Honolulu (instead of being shipped to Vietnam!). Jim planned to stay a few months; I said I could take a week of vacation.

We spent a wonderful week exploring the island (on a motorcycle, of course). The boys were surfers and I loved watching them ride the huge waves on the north shore. We enjoyed tropical showers and vivid sunsets.

This was one of those “good-girl, bad-boy” romances. I was career-minded even then. In fact I was an assistant buyer for a luxury department store in Southern California—the youngest in the store’s history. Jim was a…well, let’s just say he was a free spirit, interested only in earning enough money to support his surfing and other recreational habits (I’ll leave that to your imagination — hey, it was the ‘70’s!).

For a week I was in carefree heaven. But vacations end and soon came the day for me to go home, go back to work, back to real life.

Then Jim asked me to stay.

Could my life get any better than that? I imagined living in this tropical paradise, going to the beach every day, making puka shell necklaces…living a very carefree life.

But I didn’t stay. I still remember boarding the plane, with tears in my eyes.

You see, in that moment, at an age when I didn’t even have the conscious awareness, let alone the vocabulary to express it, I knew what I really wanted my life to look like.

This was long before people paid life coaches to help them live intentionally, long before we wrote personal mission statements, long before the volumes of self-help books had been written.

Even though I was too young and uninitiated to have a personal life plan, I knew at some level I was making a choice that was congruent with who I am, a choice that fit my values.

So I boarded the plane, went back to my assistant buyer job and I’ve been a career woman ever since.

What do you really want your life to look like?

I know too many people who are discontent, frustrated with their jobs (or careers), or tired of relationships that drain them. They feel stuck, or perhaps lost, unable to find a path to happiness.

Last week I had a conversation with a friend who has had a difficult four years. An accident interrupted her booming career and left her with constant physical pain, plus a mountain of medical bills. Now, after surgery, which should make a major difference in her health, and an insurance settlement that will get her as close to “whole” as she’ll ever be, she’s facing big decisions.

It’s a little overwhelming.

Where does she want to live? Which career path should she pursue? What is the best investment of her time and money?

Choosing is always more difficult than not choosing, because we have to take responsibility then. But not deciding is also making a decision – a decision to let life take you where it will, instead of being intentional. In the end, it’s avoiding responsibility.

It’s easy to get lost in wondering what the “right” decision will be. But there are no right or wrong answers. You get to decide what you want your life to look like. Your answer might be different than mine. You may have stayed in Hawaii!

It’s also easy to get stuck in feeling like you’ve been shortchanged. That’s a sure recipe for unhappiness. I can’t remember who said this (if I did I’d give them credit): “You must have wanted what you have because you chose it.”

That’s a tough fact to face, because it’s easier to see ourselves as victims of life’s pitfalls, accidents and tragedies. But in the end, we always get to choose, even if our only choice is HOW we respond to misfortunes that we all encounter.

Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

My friend will make the best decisions for herself if she’ll answer these questions:

  • What makes me happy?
  • What feeds my spirit?
  • What do I really want my life to look like?

I hope you’ll make your life the work of art that you desire. Just be faithful to who you are and faithful to your own values.

Choose.

Take care,

Darcie Harris

 

 

P.S. Yes, I still have a bit of that carefree, adventurous spirit in me. As you read this, I’ll be enjoying two weeks of carefree heaven, exploring the coast between the French Riviera and Barcelona. And then I’ll come back to work, just like I did in 1973. Because that’s really what makes me happy.

Alpha Mare: Embrace the grace of power

P.S.S. If you’d like some guidance on deciding what you really want your life to look like, you’ll enjoy my e-course, The Alpha Mare: Embrace the Grace of Power.  It’s a deep exploration into discovering who you are, giving up the stories that keep you stuck and uncovering your most authentic self.

 

A “Balcony Person” made my day

Balcony peopleI could see the audience begin to rise in ovation as the full cast of Les Miserables gathered on stage to sing the powerful final refrain of Do You Hear the People Sing?

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

I suppose it’s typical for an audience to affirm the cast of a play with a rousing ovation. What I noticed, though, is that it’s always the people in the balcony seats along the side of the theater who rise first and who cheer the loudest — whistling, cheering and calling Bravo!

I love the Balcony People

There are Balcony People outside the theater too. They are the people who are cheering others on, affirming, encouraging. They offer strength, courage or a simple kind word for no reason at all.

I think it’s sad that we live in a pretty snarky world now. Look at the tabloid covers at the checkout stand in any grocery or drug store. They exploit the most painful moments of people’s lives and shove that into our faces. We, in turn, entertain ourselves reading about other people’s failures or celebrating the criticism and humiliation that’s standard red meat for most reality TV shows.

And while social media has its plus side, it’s also become a place to complain, criticize, and condemn. That’s pretty easy to do, shielded behind the safety of our computer screens. But we don’t need to let ourselves get swept into this current of judgment and criticism.

Sure, there are people who get on our nerves, annoy us, people who do things we don’t like. But we’ll likely never know the pain or the burdens that brought them to the place where they behave the way they do.

We’ll likely never know the heartaches or worries of the person in the car next to us at a red light, the strangers we pass in mall, or the work crews we see mowing lawns.

I do know this:  a simple smile, a small gesture of kindness may be the only bright spot in their day.

A Balcony Person made my day

Last week I facilitated a strategic planning session. Sounds like about as much fun as diagramming sentences, doesn’t it? And yet, the day was not just productive but happy and energizing.

The day was happy because Max, the board president, was a Balcony Person. Throughout the day, he interjected words of encouragement, appreciation and affirmation to each board member and to me. His cheerful spirit made my job as the facilitator much easier and lightened the spirits of everyone in the room.

But that’s not all. Two days later I received a hand-written note from Max, saying, “You are tremendous…guided us masterfully…your spirit shone so brightly and set the tone…”

Let me tell you, that simple note made my day. I know there will come a day when I’m discouraged, stuck or just feeling generally miserable and I’ll pull out Max’s note to lift my spirits.

Max is a Balcony Person.

Two kinds of energy

The play Les Miserables is the story of a man who turned his energy from hating to loving. It’s a story of forgiveness and redemption during a time when it was excruciatingly hard to do the former, let alone achieve the latter.

Surely if Jean Val Jean – a man unfairly imprisoned, scorned and hunted for a minor infraction of the law — could turn his heart from bitterness and hate to generosity and love, we can do something as simple as shift our energy from dark to light. Surely we can offer a few words of affirmation or encouragement to a friend, a co-worker or even a complete stranger.

Be a Balcony Person (please!)

Give the gift of affirmation. You may never know the outcome, but your few words of encouragement or appreciation may change a person’s life.

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

Take care,

Darcie Harris

 

P.S. Kindness is contagious

The best part of being a Balcony Person is that it’s catching! Your simple act of kindness or warmth will be remembered and passed on.

Here are just four of my favorite ways to be a Balcony Person:

  • I tell the cashier at the grocery store that I like her nails (those loooong ones, decorated with whatever the upcoming holiday is about)
  • I pause when I drive by a yard crew taking care of the landscaping and thank them for making the neighborhood pretty
  • I smile and say hello to the new person who walks into the gym so they will feel welcome
  • I always ask immigrant cab drivers to tell me about their home country and what it’s like there (they always miss it, and the families they left behind)

It feels so good to be kind! I’m sure I get more out of it than the recipient, because it lifts my spirits and brings joy to my day.

 

In defense of perfectionism

My son Tate has always had wisdom beyond his years.

perfectionismOne Christmas, when he was about six, he watched me struggle as I was wrapping a gift. I was using ribbon with velvet on one side, satin on the other. I tried my best to get all the loops and tails to come out with the velvet side up.

That slippery little ribbon wasn’t cooperating.

I don’t think I spewed profanity (surely not in front of a six year old!), but Tate could tell I was getting pretty frustrated. I was on my fourth try, when Tate looked at me – puzzled — and calmly said, “Mom, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t you know all that energy you use trying to be perfect could be used just to have fun?”

Well, uh…I’d never really thought about life like that.

I’ve remembered his wise words ever since and I do attempt to find that delicate balance between perfectionism and knowing when “good enough” is good enough.

And yet…I’m a big fan of perfectionism.

All you have to do is watch the documentary “This Is It” about Michael Jackson to see perfectionism in motion. Watch him bring forth the absolute best from every singer, dancer and musician.

Just listen to k.d. lang sing Hallelujahat the Winter Olympics and you’ll know what perfection sounds like. (If this isn’t perfect, I don’t know what is!)

Daniel Day Lewis is a perfectionist – when he takes on a role, he stays “in character” the entire time the movie is being shot. Yes, he embodied President Lincoln for months, never sliding back and forth from Abe to Daniel. See that movie and you’ll see perfectionism at its best.

Steven Jobs was a perfectionist, and the beauty of his Apple products (not to mention animated movies) are a testimony to his constant quest for innovation.

The Ritz Carlton hotels, Nordstrom’s shopping experience, Valentino gowns are all premium brands that shoot for perfection.

I admire the effort, the dedication, the sense of mission it takes to create these performances, these products, these brands.

Yet it looks to me like we’re declining into a culture that shrugs when things go wrong and says, “Whatever.” We’ve made it fashionable to be wrinkled, rumpled and ragged. We work so hard to protect our own self esteem (and that of our children) that we tell ourselves it’s fine to settle for ordinary, mediocre or even second-rate.

Now before you start throwing things at me, you can definitely make an argument that being an all-out perfectionist is unhealthy. Without a doubt, taken too far, perfectionism burdens our lives with compulsion, anxiety and shame.

At its worst, perfectionistic thoughts can include, “If I make a mistake, there’s something wrong with me,” or “I’m never good enough.” Trying to be perfect at everything, all the time interferes with relationships and stifles creativity.

But I’m not talking about basing your entire self-worth as a person on being a perfect human being. I’m saying, Let’s embrace the pursuit of perfection in our endeavors. Let’s quit accepting mediocrity and keep shooting for the stars.

Striving for perfection doesn’t mean you never make a mistake, it means that you look at every opportunity for improvement.

I’d like to think there’s such a thing as healthy perfectionism (I wonder how many mental health professionals will disagree with me).

Perhaps the determining factor between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism depends on where the desire for perfection comes from. Does it come from fear, from shame, or the constant need for approval? Not healthy. Does it lead to being critical of everyone or everything? Not good.

But what if the genesis of pursuing perfection is a temperament for excellence? Or an eye for the most delightful aesthetics? Or an ear for beautiful music? Or appreciation for impeccable skills? Or the desire to create the highest level of customer service?

If the perfectionistic drive comes from a true desire to be committed to your endeavor, your work or your craft – to do and be the best you can be – then I think perfectionism is a worthy goal.

Like any other strength, perfectionism overused becomes a weakness. When the root of perfectionism is conditional acceptance, we’ve got a problem.

So while I strive to give my best to every worthy endeavor, I still remember my son’s words: Some of that energy I’m using to find perfection I now use just to have fun! I hope you’ll do both too.

Take care, d

Darcie Harris

 

 

P.S.  I’m not a therapist, so if being a perfectionist is ruining your life, seek professional help please!

Get lost in the music

Make beautiful musicI’ve been driving back and forth to Dallas quite a bit these days, to work with one of my favorite clients.

Door to door, the trip is three and a half hours. Now, I could fly, but then I’d miss the best part: spending that time alone, with the top down on the car and music blasting on the stereo.

Well, I’m not exactly alone. Lots of friends keep me company. Everyone from Kenny Loggins to K.D. Lang, from Paul Simon to Carly Simon, from Boz Skaggs to Pavarotti.

There is no computer in front of my face, no keyboard at my fingertips. No messy papers stacked high, no sticky notes plastered on my computer screen, no annoying Outlook “reminders” popping up with that “ding” that makes me feel guilty about all my incomplete tasks.

No distractions. Just me and the music.

And it’s wonderful.

The wind blows the cobwebs out of my head. The music opens my heart and inspires my imagination.

It never fails — I get fresh perspectives on complex issues or new ideas during those drives. Somehow I just see things differently with the wind in my hair, sun on my shoulders and the music loud.

It’s a creative time. I do my best thinking when I’m not even trying to think.

These road trips teach me two things:

  • There is always more than one way to accomplish what you want.

There are only seven notes on the musical scale – seriously – seven notes. But throw in sharps, flats and harmonies and these same seven notes create an infinite variety of music. Now add different rhythms, tempos, melodies, harmonies and lyrics and you have an unfathomable diversity of music.

So often we see things only from one perspective, and that’s when we get stuck. We see only one solution, one “right” way. But the diversity of music – all derived from those same seven notes — teaches me that there are limitless possibilities. What might be possible if we applied a new tempo, different lyrics or added harmonies whatever we’re working on?

  • We could all use more of this creative, strategic thinking time.

Our “thinking time” gets neglected (or buried!) in the avalanche of emails, meetings, phone calls, spreadsheets, tweets and bank statements. But think about this…

Research tells us that behind every story of major advance is a turning point where someone has a useful idea that changes their field or starts a new one. Strategic intuition explains what happens in the mind of whoever has that idea.

Simply put, “strategic intuition” is good ideas. These good ideas most often come to you as flashes of insight, when you don’t expect them — in the shower, in traffic, falling asleep, in your dreams. The fog clears and you see what to do.

So where is your creative space?

If you want to apply new thinking to old problems, if you want to foster those flashes of insight, you have to allow yourself enough “empty space” – time when your mind is not cluttered with the demands of work and life.  Get lost in the music!

As we head into those “lazy, hazy, crazy” days of summer, I hope you’ll create a bit of empty space for yourself. It might be a road trip with the top down and the stereo up. It might be parking yourself in a lounge chair on a beach somewhere. It might be sitting on a rock in Sedona.

My hope for you is that you will find whatever feeds your spirit and nurtures your imagination. You’ll uncover new perspectives on old problems. You’ll discover infinite ways to take those seven notes and apply new lyrics and harmonies.

Whatever it is, just rest your mind. Then make beautiful music.