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Welcome to Golden Acorns

I believe growth happens between words and actions. That there is a golden space that connects meaning between the lines of our individual story – both our external story and the one that plays in our head – and how we show up in the world. As a preacher’s kid I associate this golden space with faith. A spiritual link that makes us whole. Not just whole individually but whole as a community. 

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Emily in headband with stars

February Quote: “Beautiful Little Weirdo”

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For February 2023 the quote was, “Don’t make yourself small for anyone. Be the awkward, funny, intelligent, beautiful little weirdo that you are. Don’t hold back. Weird it out.”

Throughout the month of love, I took time to focus on the heart of me—literally and figuratively. I got baseline metrics on my heart with an echocardiogram and stress test. I joined a friend for a meditation with sound bowls. I celebrated loved-one’s birthdays from dad and Godson to more than 6 friends. I texted poetry to a friend on her first day of coaching certification class. I stood in snowflakes. I headed back to Orange Theory Fitness after graduating from 2 months of physical therapy. I fed roasted peanuts to the birds and squirrels from my desk outside. I danced in the kitchen while I grabbed a snack to recharge between meetings. I said prayers and meditated each night. I attended a class on my “money mindset.” I had a co-worker join me in an online class on how to get comfortable with mistakes and failures where we drew someone in the class without looking at our paper or picking the pen off the paper – and then others guessed who we drew. While it all felt like a normal month for me, I’ll admit as I write it down, it looks a bit weird. But then again, I’ve always felt a little weird and am OK with that.

Growing up I could hang with many groups, but I never felt 100% a part of one. I had friends in each type of The Breakfast Club in high school, and still do. The theater performer in a group of academics. The only college student in a group of convenient store co-workers. The only woman in a room of gray-haired executive men. The only civilian in a room of combat veterans. The only professional communicator on a committee of double-board certified physicians. The only Gen X-er on a work team of Gen Z’s. The only contractor who showed up at a government meeting last week wearing a headband that made me look like a unicorn to celebrate someone’s impact on the team. Uh, yeah, that’s weird!

In each space, however, I felt weirdly at home. What I’ve come to realize is that my weirdness was not my weakness but my strength. It’s what helped me contribute to make something different or better come about. It’s helped me put diverse teams together. It’s helped me surround myself with unique perspectives which helped me grow. It’s what puts me in amazing situations. It’s what enabled me to do something bold (and needed) in the moment based on what I felt rather than the norm. It’s helped me forge my own path as a leader. My weirdness makes me, well me… in the business world, it’s my competitive advantage.

So, as I fell in love with my weirdness again in February, here are quotes that caught my attention:

  • No one diary entry is your life’s story
  • Success occurs within the privacy of your soul
  • Grace like a river
  • Look at the different polarities and see how they effect the peace
  • A practice of paying attention … look for what you notice and no one else sees
  • An axe forgets but the tree remembers
  • I am not different from you; I am different like you
  • Exercise child-like habits
  • Take a stand in your life
  • Creativity is free play with no rules
  • Find ones way back into one’s own heart
  • It’s your choice
  • Play, explore, and test without the connection to the results
  • Create an open space to invite it in
  • Train yourself to see the awe behind the obvious
  • Release them with the faith that more will arrive
  • I can’t change back for you—I’m a mountain
  • Limiting yourself is a true disservice
  • Amplify the difference
  • Only if there are angels in your head will you ever, possibly, see one
  • The immediate influence of the divine
  • Soft is the new hard
  • An ear has no lid
  • Divinely guided
  • Your thought is the start of all creation
  • Talent is letting ideas manifest through you
  • The world is not waiting for more of the same
  • The true instrument is you

This month, I also learned that I am drawn to weird. I am more playful around it, and those who own it in themselves. I enjoy their uniqueness as it brings about a freshness to everything around them… it keeps life interesting. So, to paraphrase the city of Austin, Texas – “keep yourself weird.”

Emily at work desk

Give Mindful Feedback

I must start this piece with a moment of gratitude for Susan Stolov, my first boss out of college and a savvy businesswoman. I still rely on so many of her business tenants 20+ years later:  

  • There is always so much work you never need to talk bad about the competition, let your work quality speak for itself
  • It’s perfectly OK to fire a client
  • How you tell a story changes everything, and it’s the research that gets you to a compelling one
  • Creativity and data can gracefully co-exist, and should
  • Unwavering attention to the details builds results
  • You can have fun at work

While these and many other mentoring moments shaped how I approach work to this day, it was how she approach feedback for which I am most grateful. I’d had jobs in high school and college, but she was the first person to give me a formal end of year review. I am fortunate she set the standard for me.

First, she set the tone. She picked a fancy restaurant in Washington, DC indicating this was a special conversation that warranted a white table cloth. In this environment we were both relaxed and we were free of work distractions in a lovely venue.

Next, she came prepared. She had notes with specifics – examples of positive impact and areas that needed attention. We talked through the feedback in a conversation at the table which made it feel more collaborative. I always felt her feedback was ground in her desire to help me be successful, as well as her business.

Then, she was vulnerable. She revealed personal experiences in her career that helped me understand that we all learn and grow along the way … that no one starts out an award-winning TV producer, sought after expert, and business owner on day one. Her vulnerability made it easier to accept the feedback with a lens of growth rather than a sense of failure.  

She moved on to the businesses. Because of how I contributed to the company’s and client’s success – my raise would be X and my bonus (based on a pre-agreed to structure) would be Z. It was all broken out on paper along with my benefits for an itemized view and grand total. The connection to the bottom line was transparent.

Finally, she ended with encouragement. Each year it varied. From a trip to the New Orleans for a news producer’s conference for training to the incentive of a spa day if I could produce 1 video without a typo. Closing with her thanks for me and a toast to our future together.

She laid out a model of mindful feedback that helped me grow in my career, but also gave me a positive connection to feedback and annual reviews. A true gift.

A few months ago, I attended a Mindful Leader Summit. One session focused on “compassionate performance reviews” – how to be more mindful when you give feedback. The session brought back memories of my past reviews, those I received and those I gave. A few of the presenter’s tips stuck with me:

  • Check your own relationship with feedback before you give it – is your body tense just thinking about a review, and if so, take action to “unwind” or process the energy such as with a walk, meditation, several deep breaths, or listen/dance to a favorite song
  • Prepare yourself to give mindful feedback by examining your motivations, recognizing the other person’s humanity, assuming positive intent, and feeling compassion
  • Be mindful of when you give feedback, so you come prepared, aren’t rushed, and are fully present with the recipient
  • Choose a setting that gives you both balance, and move from behind the big desk to be more connected with the other person

Finally, remember to “gift the other person with your attention.”

Emily with friends around a table outside

Making Adult Friendships

I grew up in two “All American” TV sitcom kind of wonderful neighborhoods where kids rode bikes and roamed free delighting in imagination driven adventures in the days before cell phones. The connections were started by proximity and forged in laughter and skinned knees. College was much the same way but with more diverse options.

I treasure these friendships and hold them in a sacred place in my heart. However, time, miles, and maturity can stretch and strain these relationships. We grow as do they.

As we age, we build new friendships through work, partners, volunteering, hobbies, church, and kids. Again, proximity plays a role. So as friends move away and life remains hectic, the bond is there but the connection changes.

Over the past few years I’ve found that while I maintain a lot of friendships – we are no longer physically close which leaves a gap. Those who I most want to spend my time with are hours or several states away. And yes, there is Facetime and texts to keep the connection. And yes, there is space, a void, that technology cannot fill.

So, although I keep my friends, I find myself wanting – and needing – new ones… but well, it sure does feel awkward to make them as an adult. I’m here to share that the friends I most recently made during/post COVID have been soul-filling and worth the funky feeling first moments.

My newest friends know a more well-rounded version of me. The me of now, not of the version of me that was in such formative years. I also feel we value our relationship more because of life perspective, and we respect our time together through candor, quick laughter, and empowering support. The relationships also formed quickly as we know time is limited and precious. I also learned that you can have friends for different reasons. I’m not looking for a new “bestie” with which to run around town, but rather people I can truly connect with on various aspects of my life. More niche relationships rather than all-around buddy.

Here are a few ways I recently made some friends as an awkward 50 year old:

Accept the offer:  During COVID lockdown I began working with a new government client. In Zoom meetings I was drawn to her positive energy, quick wit, and creative thinking. At times she said what was in my mind which rarely happens. When the work ended, she politely said, “It was nice working with you we should stay in touch.” Hmmmm. I’d heard this before and I almost blew it off as professional politeness. But instead, I thought about for a bit. Did she mean it? How weird would I look reaching out without work to talk about? Would I look desperate, as if I had no friends? But I reflected on how I felt with her and thought, “What the hell. She offered. I’d accept.” It’s been over 2 years and we talk monthly and even met up to spend a day at the Virginia Fine Art Museum in her town; looking, eating, and dreaming together. I always leave our chats refreshed and recharged.

Make the offer:  I met a younger coworker who came to me for some coaching on an issue. I reflected after each call how much I learned from her in the process. So, I asked if she’d be my mentor. After a few chats we talked about our new friendship, and settled in for deeper discussions. We talk about religion, family traditions, and recipes. There is a casualness in our conversations. Authentic and no fancy airs. Just two women appreciating their personal journey, together.

Trust the vibe:  I completed my mindfulness facilitator certification in a global program, fully online. The work was vulnerable and a bit lonely done remotely, coupled with culture, time zone, and language differences. Via Zoom, I dropped into our pre-determined small workgroup and saw her smile. Warmth and comfort. When we needed to pair up and find a class “buddy,” I pounced on her solely due to how I felt in her presence. Over a year later we talk and text regularly, share tips, listen intently, laugh hard, and hold space for each other to express what’s in our heart – the joy and hurt. She then pulled me into her network which led to a global network of like-minded kind folks.

Share your network: As the cloud of COVID descended, I texted two friends together, made an introduction about how I thought they should know each other and what they had in common, and shared something I thought they’d both like. The conversation has never stopped … continued through hundreds of texts with lots of memes, photos, article links, celebrations, and prayer requests.

These new relationships taught me that when you sense a connection — explore it! Forget the inner anxious voice of your 13-year-old self. Ignore proximity as the folks you most need might not live on your street anymore. Be open to a new type of targeted connection rather than a single end-all-be-all friend.

And most of all, remember we all need friends… and someone is in need of you.

Graphic recorder drawing content on wall poster

Facilitation for Meaningful Outcomes  

Experiencing a well-designed and gracefully facilitated meeting is a gift. It demonstrates thoughtfulness, creativity, and clarity of purpose – as well as respect for diversity of thought and the use of people’s time. Intentional work sessions can feel like a road trip: excitement, uncomfortable, expanding, playful, and with a sense of relief and pride when you arrive… all guided by the facilitator.

While I didn’t intentionally set out to become a facilitator, it’s now one of my favorite work experiences. I grew into this role drawing on skills I honed over the course of my career:  public speaking, storytelling, coaching, listening, planning, and creativity. I also took courses on facilitation, read books, and closely watched facilitators to learn from them in action – what resonated with me and the room, and what didn’t.

What I realized over time is that there is no single way to facilitate. Yes, there are commonalities to how you put an event together (e.g., intros, norms, breaks, rotational work groups). But in terms of how you facilitate, well, that’s entirely up to you. Each facilitator brings a piece of them to the DNA of the event. And that’s a powerful tool.

Periodically folks reach out to me about facilitation – how to do it, how to start, or how to think through and design an activity for a meeting. There are two parts to facilitation:  design the session and deliver it. I’ll start with facilitation design.

Facilitation Design

Most importantly, design a meeting you’d like to attend – doing things, having discussions, and building solutions that can’t be done expect in community with others. Collaboration, inspiration, integration, and ideation come from interaction. Create a meeting where folks can connect. PowerPoints and lectures won’t cut it. You need to have folks sharing and working together in order to build new insights and solutions.

I never start planning a meeting without knowing the three goals of the meeting. Specifically, what needs to be physically in our hands (or minds) when the session is over. Or, asked another way, how will you know, what will you see, or what will you hear if the event is successful. This is essential so that you create activities in the time you have that will culminate in the right outcome or product. These goals are shared with the participants when I say, “At the end of the next two-days we will have 1, 2, and 3” so they are clear on what they need to bring into being as a group. I also coordinate with the client/event lead on where I have wiggle room and how to coordinate with them on changes in the agenda. There are times when conversations occur that change the course of a meeting and as a facilitator, we need to recognize that and make space for it. We cannot be so driven by the clock or preconceived goals that we miss the magic in the moment.

Understand time, and that you’ll never have enough. At the end of every strategy session I facilitate I hear the words, “we really need to do this more often.” Yet, intentional, facilitated meetings remain an annual event at best which results in a cram it all in experience of report the past, understand the now, and plan the future in under 8 hours event, sometimes half a day! As things get dumped in, always check them against the goals. I also found that 90% of the people I work with on a meeting do not understand how long it takes to do things, such as doing introductions of 20 people in 5-10 minutes, nope. I plan in 5-minute increments – never 2 or 7 minutes. By rounding up you typically get to a more accurate time, plus I generally add 5 or more minutes to what folks think it will take. Participants need to have breathing room and not feel like they are getting shoved through a gauntlet of exercises to complete. The time and space should foster a sense of relaxed thinking.

You need activities that help folks share who they are, both professionally and personally. You need quite time for introverts to process and frame their thinking before they share and for extroverts to take a strategic pause. You need small group thinking to build comfort with each other and big group validation discussions. You need visuals – from easel pad or notes on a screen to a graphic recorder – to help reach all the brains and enable participants to actually see what they are building together.

When I build a meeting agenda I use a column format: 

  • Time (9:00-9:10 / 10 minutes) so it have a clock view to help me quickly know how much time I have left in a session and a participant view – “I’ve been listening to X person for 20 minutes.”
  • Activity name and description so my client and team understand what the participants will do together and the supplies needed to help them succeed
  • Outcome or purpose of each activity so my client and team knows explicitly what the work will generate and how it connects to the 3 goals – from how introductions are done, to the food provided, or worksheet completed

Upon approval of the agenda, I convert it to my facilitation guide – keeping the time column and writing out my full “script” in place of the activity description. By writing it out word for word I check my time allocation (140 words = 1 minute speaking) and that I have the steps clear for participants. I also found that this helps me internalize the meeting so that I can be more present day of. I found that by writing it all down, I feel freer to make adjustments during the day because I intuitively know what needs to be done. Sometimes I rely heavily on the script when I want to say things precisely because certain words really matter, but mostly it’s a guide. Having it written out, also enables someone else to step in and facilitate if an emergency arises.

The location is another key consideration. Can the work be done in the space? Tables, and if so round tables or U-shape or just chairs in a circle? Windows? White boards, easel pads, or a screen? Technology? Accessibility? Parking? Meals? The place you put folks impacts their feeling and thinking.


Moving into day of tips, the most important is to understand and articulate your role as a facilitator. I typically see myself as a friendly guide or host with a side of timekeeper, cheerleader, and investigative reporter. I think it’s important for facilitators to know you need to:

  • Hold folks accountable to the norms and purpose of the work – so they have the right kind of conversations to create what is needed in the time allocated
  • Help all voices get heard … give folks actual quite time to think before a conversation starts or use “I’m going to call on a few folks I haven’t heard from lately”
  • Stop/redirect a discussion and shut folks down (obviously nicely) when it’s toxic, unproductive, or irrelevant – how to do this gracefully is a whole other blog
  • Make sure all the work is done — or get consensus in the room that X will come off so they can dig more into Y as something significant came up
  • Be ok with long stents of silence and the unknown as you were not there to give answers but to create space for them to come to life
  • Find the balance between how your personality/presence is needed and stepping back to the let the process work
  • Listen to words that constantly arise that need to be explored or what is to being said or skirted around
  • Read the energy and adjust accordingly with your voice, where you stand, or the activity
  • Wear clothes so you move comfortably without drawing attention or causing a distraction

As a certified mindfulness facilitator, I want to wrap up with a focus on personal energy, being aware of how you are doing throughout a session. Consider being alone before participants arrive to center yourself – see how you’re feeling (frenetic energy or knot in the stomach nerves), take a few breaths for calmness, reflect on how you want to host, and mentally walk through the meeting to set your intention. As an introvert, I also (1) plan quiet time the day before the session to practice and visualize the day, (2) find a few moments of quite in a session (perhaps at lunch or on a break) to recenter, (3) selectively participate in evening events when I have multi-day session, and (4) have alone time the day after a session is over to process the experience and recharge my people battery.

Before you end your session, seek feedback in real time while the emotions are fresh, and ideally a few days later for more reflective input. Day of, I simply put a + or – on an easel page and ask what worked (+) and what needs improvement (-). In a post event survey, I aim for 5-10 questions, most on a 4-point Likert scale, to avoid the safe, middle of the road score of 3 on a 5-pointscale, with a few open-ended questions. The survey should seek insights on if goals were met, activities, was it an effective use of time, venue, and facilitator.

Finally, if you’re looking for ways to learn more about creating space to bring folks together for meaningful discussions, I offer up two books. First, Whole Mind Facilitation by Eric Meade. I recommend this book because I’ve seen him in action, so I know what he wrote works, and co-facilitated with him several times – each time learning so much. Priya Parker offers a broader take on how to bring people together in her book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters. This book is about being a host and designing experiences with people in mind.  

black glittery high-top tennis shoe

February 2023 Quote: “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride”

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For January 2023 the quote was, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

It seemed like everyone in my social media feed hit the new year running. They picked their word for the year. Set a goal or two. Began with dry January and hit the gym with veggies. I on the other hand limped into the year new with a jacked up back. The lack of mobility and protected moves gave me a more guarded stance entering into 2023 – literally. I found however, this this served me well and kept me from getting caught up in the frenzy around me. I did what was right for me. Along the way, here are quotes that caught my attention in January:

  • The next horizons live inside ourselves
  • So come to the pond or river of our imagination, or the harbor of your longing, and put your lips to the world and life your life.
  • Everything will kill you, so choose something fun
  • We silence the noise with intuition
  • Faith is relaxing
  • May your life become a garden of opportunities for happiness
  • Leadership is the space we hold for others
  • The space between stimulus and response – we can, and must, expand that space
  • Audacity returns
  • That heavily guarded border between the edge of our own safety and the edge of our dream
  • The balance of grace and swagger, of magic and mystery
  • I believe fear and action can co-exist
  • Got sent help – she sent you.
  • Put it together!
  • Drop the fear
  • Their radiance draws others who’ve grown board with conformity and competition              
  • Transient hassles that disturb my core peace
  • What will it take for you to stand up for your vision?
  • Be around the light bringers, the magic makers, the world shifter, the game shakers
  • Courage to carve your own path
  • See what you discover
  • Radical collaboration
  • Everywhere I turn, there I am

It was interesting that I picked this quote for January as a way to jump start my new year. Go all in. My reality was different. Rather than my anticipated participation in Orange Theory Fitness two week transformation challenge – I got dry needled and stretched by my physical therapist. Rather than my scheduled take down of Christmas decorations, we left the tree up another week enjoying the soothing warm glow of the lights into middle of the month. Rather than showing up to my first offsite of the year in my usual facilitation heals and pantsuit, I wore new black sequined Converse high-tops to support my back’s recovery in style, and bringing smiles to the participants.

For a while I felt like I was letting 2023 down right out of the gate. Already falling behind. Then I realized I was caught up on expectations rather than appreciate reality.

I paused and reminded myself that a quote I picked doesn’t define me. That I set the quote, and I can change or reframe it. So, I decided to adjust my thinking about “take the ride” to focus on the ride of recovery.  A ride that I needed and enjoyed, rather than a ride of competition with others. My January ride gave me more time to read, more time to rest, more chats with friends, and more time to move at a pace that was right for me. The lack of pressure to do was delightful.

I’m grateful for a very different January. A ride of rejuvenation rather than roller coaster.

Leading From Within book on lap

Books – January 2023

The Long Game: How to be a Long-term Thinker in a Short-term World by Dorie Clark

It was great to read a book by fellow Mary Baldwin University “sister squirrel,” Dorie Clark. While a hard copy to mark up and come back to would be nice … listening to Dorie read it was like being in an extended coaching session or masterclass with her. Within Dorie’s advice and real stories was a clear strategic plan. One that she herself applied to become a national best seller, top 50 business thinker in the world, grammy winner, and Broadway investor – all after a career in political campaigns. She offers a dual system to reach your goals: deliberate actions now for immediate returns augmented by secondary actions for the next wave of success.

Her approach helps you understand what you want to accomplish and how to create clear steps to accomplish it in a way that is meaningful for you. The book also helps you avoid getting stuck in the hamster wheel of corporate America’s expectations. She takes on busyness, saying no, and goal setting. She offers a long-term perspective by thinking in “waves.” She explores patience and rethinks failure. She showcases how networking should (and shouldn’t) be done, and its value over time–and in a way that is also appealing to introverts like myself. Dorie does all this in practical ways that are not cost prohibitive for even the young professional. But what was most exciting about “The Long Game,” is that it offers courage to carve your own career path.

This is not the frantic go, go, go approach that many executive coaches offer in their “do it and do it now” models, but a more methodical way to move toward your dreams in a way that enables you to enjoy life along the way. To me, a refreshing approach that supports more balance in your life.

Leading From Within:  Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation by Gretchen Ki Steidle

As a life-long volunteer from a non-profit family, mindfulness newbie, and change management practitioner, this book captured my attention. The opening sentence of this book’s promotion summary quickly drew me in: “A roadmap for integrating mindfulness into every aspect of social change: how to lead transformation with compassion for the needs and perspectives of all people.” I started this book at the beach on a porch rocking chair and finished it several months later next to my lit Christmas tree. Where I had – both physically and mentally – changed a lot in the time frame; especially as I personally went through a large work transformation at work and am talking more with clients about “what is next” for their organizations and as a person.

The book’s content on conscious (intentional) change in combination with mindfulness is spot on and very relevant. It covers why and how to take a breath to look at the current state as it presently is rather than with a lens of expectation – no easy task. Gretchen offers a framework for change, mindful practices (including my favorite “loving kindness”), culture considerations, tips on how to be a better listener, and the science and case studies to bring it to life. She also lays out how to develop a self-care plan as the demands of being a change agents can be physically, mentally, and soulfully draining. What I found most helpful is a refreshing way to look at planning with 3 poignant questions:  What is happening? What is true? And “What is needed?” Plus, a creative way to visually map a current situation with the elements of a tree:  root causes (roots); problem (tree trunk) and effects (leaves), plus a complementary approach to a brainstorming session and stakeholder analysis. A lot to process in one small book, but worth it to help bring about meaningful, personal, and lasting change in the world.

Permission to Glow:  A Spiritual Guide to Epic Leadership by Kristoffer Carter

I met “K.C.” at a Mindful Leader conference in the fall of 2022 where he presented on the “permissions” outlined in this book. His presentation style and book voice is that of Tigger who meditates – vivacious energy with an undercurrent of intentional calm. You can’t help but get caught up in his vibe. The book offers up 4 permissions to bring about more intentional, meaningful leadership – and outcomes.  Chill. Feel. Glow in the dark. Glow in the light. As well as their counter, limiting sides which he named speedy rabbit, game face, phantom pest, and darkstar. While the language might sound odd, the permissions themselves and the icons provided to represent them are well explained and offer new words to use to combat old leadership issues to create a more authentic approach.

The book offers an approach, self-reflection tools, meditations, and some case studies. A few phrases that caught my attention in the book include:

  • “We silent the noise with intuition”
  • The importance of discernment with the simple question, “Does this serve me?”
  • “Boredom is often a sign of an issue with your calendar. Board leaders are either over- or under-scheduled. They haven’t committed to enough activities that make them glow.”
  • “The permission to glow lies just beyond the safety of our comfort zone—and safely beneath our ejection seat of upper limiting beliefs.”
  • “…that heavily guarded border between the edge of our safety and the edge of our dream.”
  • “Radiance draws others who’ve grown bored with conformity and competition”
  • “Be more like the determined, happy toddler figuring out how to walk, and less like the jaded bureaucrat.”

How to be an Inclusive Leader by Jennifer Brown

I read this book over the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend as a way to reinvigorate my desire to build more belonging in the groups of which I was a part. Jennifer offers a 4-part “inclusive leader continuum” with unaware, aware, active, and advocate. I liked that this is a fluid (rather than linear) model, where we move back and forth within each area as we learn, relearn, and find more of our ignorance to understand.

This book is about action, “It’s incumbent on those of us who identities make us insiders in a system to go first. The only choice we have is to step up and show up, however imperfectly—to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” The book addresses the awkward moments of stepping into action, and starts with the fundamental question about privilege: “How much of my world was built with me in mind?”

Her “diversity dimensions” and “iceberg model” tools are a great way to take a look at and better understand your network. I recommend this book be used within a larger learning context – such as firm-wide, division, or team book club as it offers practical information, discussion guide, and conversation starters. Jennifer leaves leaders with the charge, “Change is about action. And if you aren’t taking action, your silence is a passive acceptance of the status quo, which further perpetuates the problem.”

Happy reading.

Mask statue in a garden

Forget Imposter Syndrome and Shine

In the past few years, the focus on and conversation around imposter syndrome has grown in my network. And it’s a phrase I only hear from women. It’s gotten to a point where last Friday, over drinks with another female executive, I claimed: “I hate imposter syndrome.” And she agreed.

While at times it’s good to name the demon so you can talk about it and take it on…. it feels likes imposter syndrome keeps women stagnant. As if they can’t move forward if they don’t address it. As if there is a permanent cure for it. That at some point this feeling of not quite enough just magically goes away.

Well, if you’re learning and trying new things this sensation of not knowing “enough” will never end — and that’s a good thing! The flip side to imposter syndrome is the comfort zone, where dynamic people stay and wither.

In my career I was not “ready” to…

– Get a video news package across town and up on the satellite for national distribution … because I did not know how to hail a cab but I accepted the mission and flung up my arm like in the movies and I was off to an award-winning career as a TV news producer

– Produce a video for Coca-Cola of an event at the State Department on then Philippines’ President Corazon Aquino … but I accepted the authority my CEO put in me and duked it out with the flag protocol manager to get the best camera shot

– Discuss the accuracy of new medical illustrations with a physician specialist, especially the size and shape of the penis drawing … but I practiced the presentation (a lot) which resulted in information that helped patients learn about a new non-surgical treatment for male infertility

– Help the Army rebrand its program for severely wounded combat soldiers as I had no military connection … so I read a lot of books, got a soldier mentor, and leaned on my compassion which enabled me to have complex conversations on someone’s worst day — creating an approach and products that increased brand recognition by 35% in one year

– Design and build a communications division … but I applied what I liked and didn’t like from past personal experiences, best practices, and a dash of creativity to ultimately create 6 award-winning federal and commercial communication divisions

From all of these and other experiences I learned I was ready. I was ready “enough.” I was ready to offer something different through collaboration. I was ready to learn what happened at the “next level.” I was ready based on my knowledge, experience, creativity, passion, and grit. I was ready to move beyond fear and claim a new opportunity to apply my gifts.

Squelching imposter syndrome is about taking the pieces from various experiences and applying them together in a way that feels authentic and meets the needs of the situation. It’s about pausing to acknowledge that fear and action can co-exist. It’s about quieting down the white noise, finding the soft voice within (AKA your intuition), and boldly listening to it. It’s about saying “yes, and…” to agree with needed support or resources. It’s about accepting you are more than you think or have done — and step into an opportunity to grow.

So, to all of you wrestling with imposter syndrome, I say, put down the excuse that holds you back. Be proud of what you’ve done and seek to add to your experiences. Embrace the opportunities others think you’re ready for. Learn, leave your mark, and build your legacy as a new kind of leader.

To support your boldness, I offer up Danielle Doby’s words as it’s important to have the right kind of network to support you on your journey…

“Be around the light bringers, the magic makers, the world shifters, the game shakers.

They challenge you, break you open, uplift and expand you.

They don’t let you play small with your life.

These heartbeats are your people.

These people are your tribe.”

holding dad's hand

December 2022 Quote: “Astonish a Mean World with Your Acts of Kindness”

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For December 2022 the quote was, “My wish for you is that you continue to be who you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.”

Kindness found me in 2022 thanks to Cole Baker-Bagwell. Before her, I have to admit kindness was a bit of a throw away word, like nice. It didn’t seem to say much. Then, she shared her definition for the word, “kindness is a commitment in thought, word, and action to leave everyone and everything better.” Then, I listened to her and saw how she lived the word. Then, I tried it out and kindness took shape. Here are quotes that caught my attention in December:

  • Look at the behaviors you tolerate
  • Leadership is stark. It is terrifying. In some ways, it’s the ultimate act of creativity
  • Ignite good in others
  • Keep the fire burning
  • Time under tension
  • We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are
  • God lurks in the gaps
  • It’s your story honey. Feel free to hit ‘em with a plot twist whenever you want.
  • Our soul lives in a joyous peace. We just need to get through the layers of mind and body static to find it.
  • We are responsible for our talents
  • Just start
  • Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer
  • This is my natural baseline: being at ease, spacious, and open…none of us is built to be a sprinter continuously. I am a sitter, an explorer, a guide.
  • When you cut into the present, the future leaks out
  • Inhale, “I am free to feel.” Exhale, “I will stay whole.”
  • We are all made of stardust and stories
  • Sign your name upon my heart
  • I will gather all the dusty sorrows from the attic of memory and cast them into the fires of oblivion
  • Magical wishes for your journey ahead 

Cole connected me to Magnus Wood, founder of the Kindness Corporation. Yep, it’s a thing! And how can you not get behind a movement with the tagline, “We help work suck less and business thrive more”? Especially when the average person spends more than 90,000 hours at work, or 1/3 of their life.

In October, I joined Magnus’ group of international leaders who meet weekly to learn about how kindness takes shape, what influences it, what diminishes it, and how to practice it – as well as share stories and tools. It’s a refreshing weekly treat that bolsters not just how I want to be as a person but how I can generate kindness in my professional and personal community.

I found that a key byproduct of kindness is connection, something I feel so many of us not just need, but crave. COVID, politics, loss, war, injustice, religion, and more place us in an “us/them,” “for or against” dynamic. Kindness on the other hand is not about an issue, but rather a person. How you as a person can be kind to another. It’s connectional.

Each act of kindness you demonstrate gives others options. Options on how to think about and treat those who are different. Options on how to make decisions at work that are supportive. Options on how to show up in a controversial situation. Options on how to create a new solution. Options on how to stand up for a better process. Options on how to be with others. Options on how to foster community.

While I think we start life from a state or lens of kindness, we somehow loose this as our default setting through our experiences. We second guess our innate response to be kind. It takes effort, and a bit of boldness, to rebuild your kindness muscle. But when demonstrated, kindness can feel radical for both the giver and receiver, and it’s a powerful sensation. A force for good.

I have to admit though that I like that acts of kindness feel a bit rogue in the current climate. I like that my kind-centered thinking, solutions, conversations, and actions rub against the norm. I enjoy disrupting the “mean world,” the status quo routine, and the old guard. I like the subversive change I’m generating at all levels of various organizations. I like that kindness breaks power-holds and emboldens others to be kind. I like that kindness brings about a kindness. I also like how I feel when kindness is the norm.

Here’s to the rampant spread of kindness in 2023.

Books on a shelf with picture frames

Books – December 2022

Culture by Design by David Friedman

With so much disruption in every industry during COVID times and the post-COVID resignation wave, it’s important for leaders at all levels to focus on culture. Friedman’s book is a good practical “how to” when it comes to understanding and building a culture, step by step. He stresses the necessity of the organization’s leader set and drive culture, and I agree. I’ll also add that a leader at any level can, and should, foster a team culture when the broader culture is weak or unhealthy. Culture is about clarity of expectations reinforced regularly and personally through behaviors, information, skill development, and meaningful conversations (proactively and reactively through feedback). He also stressed that when a culture remains unaddressed or toxic that self-preservation is warranted, and to leave.

Taste by Stanley Tucci

I enjoyed this on Audible as Stanley’s voice gave it an added personal feel. Listening to him recount food – especially Italian – in his life made me think of how southern food is a centerpiece of mine. I’m fortunate to have a mom who loves to give love, sympathy, and encouragement through food. So many yummy traditions passed down through handwritten recipe cards. Stanley did a great job intertwining personal stories, with recipes… much like how a musician tells you the story behind a lyric. While the recipes he shared sounded delicious, not sure I’ll go back and try to make them due to my lack of patience in the kitchen. But I was intrigued with a recipe that called for a “fuck ton of butter.”

I Wish I’d Known This: 6 Career-Accelerating Secrets for Women Leaders by Brenda Wensil and Kathryn Heath

A former boss and leadership mentor recommended this book having heard and met author Brenda over the years. I think this book has solid foundational information for emerging leaders, especially women. The book, written by seasoned leadership coaches, covered 6 blind spots many executives have such as career drift, self-awareness, and operating on autopilot—and how to address them. I appreciated their chapter on “reputationality” or as they explain, “The combination of your unique personality and your reputation. It’s how you stand out—how you leave your mark.” They also stressed the importance of building your posse, which I talk about regularly to those I mentor and do personally. In and out of your office, it’s important to have an intimate group of candid, supportive, probing, smart, passionate, and fun supporters who champion your success.

Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger

I found this book in an Audible search, and it reminds me a bit of Crying in H Mart. The author set out to learn about her father Joe Schactman, an artist, who died young after years of heroin addiction. The author weaves memories together from her life to build a story of loss, artistry, family, and growth. While the book tries to put the author’s detective story on her father front and center, it’s her own story that that fascinates me most, especially her journey from a 16-year-old high school dropout to an ivy league Master’s degree holder.

It Worked for Me by Colin Powell

I took some time to reset just before I started at a new company due to an acquisition and listened to this book, read by the author himself. I was surprised by how much this book resonated with me, and how many of the things in it I do or strive to. Perhaps I picked up more than I realized during the six years I consulted with the Army. The book was basically 44 mini podcasts, each lasting 5-10 minutes with a leadership standard, story, and rationale. Powell covered his 13 rules for how to lead, taking care of the people on your team, working in a digital world and with the media, reaching full impact, and a few reflections based on memorable relationships. He offers advice that is still relevant and needed today. 

Happy reading.

journal with columns and copy to show intention tracking

Quiet Intention

I enjoy the quiet time between Christmas and the new year. Quiet from work. Quiet by the tree. Quiet in me. The quiet often starts on Christmas Eve with a candlelight service at church and the departing hymn “Joy to the World.” A final exclamation for the year before I settle into comfy clothes and cookies for a few days of personal reflection.

During this time, I often hear myself more – or more clearly. I do less and “be” more by soaking in traditions, being more present with loved ones, and savoring a slower gear with time. I also put thought into the new year.

While I’m less about setting SMART goals (though I know they are useful), I do focus on my intention. How I want to be in the new year. What I want to put my attention to bringing about. What I want to reinforce in my sphere of influence and community. I always think about this from a positive perspective, more X rather than less Y.

I picked up this annual habit on intention setting from a former government Under Secretary and 1 star general I used to support. She would pick a word for the year, share it with her community, track what happened throughout the year related to it, and then share the outcomes the following December in a letter. It was always amazing to read what manifested in her year related to her word. Her approach for the new year was both personal and publicly accountable.

What I saw through her year-in-review intention emails, and experienced first-hand, is that intention is wildly simple but incredibly powerful. Intention typically brings more meaningful outcomes and unimaginable experiences that are bigger than what I could imagine in a SMART goal. The abundance of intention is incredible.

One year my intention was empower. Empower my team, my loved ones, my professional network, my self, my community. It was great to see how many opportunities arose each week for me to make a decision and take an action to empower, or savor when someone empowered me. The same went for my year centered on joy. For the past few years, I focused on 3 things:  create, empower, joy. Each month I setup columns with each word at the top and tracked all the things I experienced related to one of those words. I never failed to fill up a page each month of wonderous experiences, thoughtful interactions, and heart-warming memories.

While I made the decision to change my intention(s) this year, I am not sure yet if it will be to one word or a few. Maybe I’ll pick a word for different areas of my life, a professional word, a community word, and a personal word. I have a new notebook picked out to start fresh as the other one is crammed full of intentional nuggets from the past few years. Perhaps the word will be…

  • Rest (to not get over-extended)
  • Laughter (to be more playful or spontaneous)
  • Generous (to be more giving of resources—time, brain, heart, money)
  • Boundaries (to protect self, time, energy, emotions, goals)
  • Faith (to be bold in beliefs)
  • Grow (to focus on learning)
  • Health (to support physical and mental wellbeing)
  • Care (to help build connections and deeper relationships) 
  • Family (to be more present with loved ones)
  • Write (to fulfill a call)
  • Wonder (to be more open to the Universe)

I look forward to what calls to me in the quiet moments in the days ahead.

If you want to join me with intention in 2023… Write your word(s) at the top of your calendar each month so you see it each day. Make it your computer password. Say it each night before you fall asleep and before you start your day. Track anything that occurs related to your word. Celebrate meaningful occurrences. 

Then, watch it come to life!