Monthly Archives: June 2016

Series on Ownership and Accountability: Sensitivity in words and deeds

The story below is about a woman’s experience in the workplace and undoubtedly mirrors the dilemmas faced by women in general. It’s a first-hand telling of the kind of sexist incidents that can affect our work environments, and a description of what kind of support and accountability that women need to overcome these circumstances.

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It’s Tuesday and one of my supervisors hosts a training class that I’m set to deliver lunch for. Entering with sandwiches, chips and cookies aplenty, I notice how hot it is in the conference room. As I take off my sweater, one of many layers, my supervisor announces to the room: “And here’s your entertainment!” The moment moves in slow motion yet happens so quickly. I hear crickets and see blank stares. I’m floored. One moment I’m delivering a delicious lunch and the next moment I’m being marked as a stripper. Objectified. I’m unsure what to do, say, or how to react. I look over at the other participants, my fellow colleagues. A couple of them chuckle uncomfortably, one walks out (not sure if it’s in response to what’s happened), others just sit quietly. I sit there in disbelief and eat my sandwich, cringing inside. But his comment lingers for the remainder of the day. It keeps me up that night.

It’s Wednesday and I’ve had time to process my supervisor’s comment. I don’t realize how much of an impact it has on me until today. I’m taken aback. I’m embarrassed and humiliated. But most importantly, I know I have to confront him and the situation. When I arrive to work and see my supervisor, I’m immediately uncomfortable. In other words, I want to punch him. I decide instead that it’s time to share what’s happened with my shop steward, our union’s onsite go-to person for any workplace issues. I’m ashamed and afraid to speak out about what’s happened for fear of not being taken seriously. But in the first bright spot in my week, my shop steward is completely supportive and sympathetic! As we talk she creates a space that allows me to express my discomfort and frustration without judgment. She offers advice and suggests next steps but ultimately leaves me with the autonomy to create my own resolution. She lets me decide what’s best for me and reassures me that I have her support no matter what. I realize for the first time that my union and shop steward are truly here to protect me and help ensure that my workplace is safe and productive.

After crying it out with my shop steward, I pull myself together and prepare to confront my supervisor. I’m very nervous. Trembling actually. I ask to speak with him in his office, handy notepad in hand, shop steward by my side. She explains that I’m requesting an informal meeting to address a concern. Like me, my supervisor has the right to a witness but chooses not to have one. I appreciate the gesture. I shut the door behind me, sit down, and dive right in. I begin by describing what happened so that there is no confusion about why we’re here. I tell him how disrespectful and inappropriate his comment was, especially coming from my direct supervisor. I make sure to emphasize that people, especially women (like his wife and daughter) get harassed every day and that one place we should have control over it is in the workplace.

And much to my surprise, he’s very receptive to my concerns. The look on his face tells me that my words resonate with him. He recognizes that he not only disrespected me, but also hurt me. Rather than go on the defense, he expresses his gratitude for my work ethic and our work relationship. He apologizes almost immediately, acknowledging his mistake and taking full accountability. He commits to being more conscious and aware in the workplace. Contrary to my initial fears, he makes me feel heard and validated. We both recognize this as a learning opportunity to improve our work environment. He thanks me for being courageous enough to speak up about it. Shortly after our discussion, we make our way to the training class, now in it’s second day, that heard his initial comment. He apologizes to the entire group, holding himself publicly accountable for his mistake and the effect it had on me. It was a powerful moment.

Series on Ownership & Accountability: Going beyond

At work or even in our personal lives we sometimes feel unhappy that we are asked to be responsible for work beyond our purview. The story below shows how when we do extend ourselves and bring a sense of ownership to all that we do, it can actually become a game changer.

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One of my clients wrote me about how a small change she made led to big results at her job. Here’s the background: In our coaching sessions, we often discussed the ways she was expected to go above and beyond at her job. She didn’t like being asked to do these extra things because she wasn’t paid for them. We covered a number of issues related to this but one idea we discussed was changing her perspective on the situation. Instead of ‘feeling forced’ to do something, what did it look like if she viewed it from a different perspective. She decided to look at it through the perspective of opportunity and impact on her future.

She decided she wanted to try a different approach and had great results. I asked her if she would write her story so that I could share it. Here’s the story she shared with me. “Amy, I decided to take a different approach with my job responsibilities and can’t believe how well it went. Hope you don’t mind reading my story – We had a big marketing launch 2 weeks away and my boss really hadn’t brought me into it. He was working with a lot of people from different groups and one of them invited me to a meeting about sending out a big invitation email. On the call, everyone was asking me what our group wanted and what they should do. So, I started telling them what I thought we should do. I also promised to follow-up on a number of items and track down some answers. Regular calls started and I was one of the main contributors. All the while I kept updating my boss by email and a couple weekly 1:1 meetings.

The project went really well and the launch was a big hit. I worked a lot of extra hours but didn’t seem to mind this time. I really enjoyed leading my parts. Plus, I got some good face-time with my boss’ boss! She was so pleased with my work that she sent me a really great email and a small spot bonus! It felt really good. I suppose the opportunity kind of fell into my lap but I fought my urge to push back and decided to instead show my ability to take initiative and solve problems. Thanks again. See you Thursday!”

I love these kinds of stories because sometimes it is a small change that can really lead to break-through moments that move someone’s career forward. Her email came to me a couple weeks ago and since then she has been acting like an owner. Now her boss is starting to bring her in to more important meetings and collaborating with her rather than giving her action items. She is feeling less forced to take on responsibilities outside of her role as she is seeing them in a new light and how they can impact her future. She is well on her way to better relationships at work and a satisfying, promising career.

Series on Ownership & Accountability: Developing personal accountability

Sometimes even when the problem lies with another individual or team how does taking ownership help you deliver great service…read on.

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Martha is frustrated. She’s trying to solve a problem with a stationery order, but the customer service agent she’s talking to isn’t helping.

“It was the dispatch team’s fault. I can’t do anything about that,” he says. Martha asks to be put through to another agent. He handles the situation very differently.

“I’m sorry to hear about this problem,” he says. “I’ll find out what’s happened and send the order by express delivery. It will be with you tomorrow.”

Martha feels less stressed straight away. The first agent shirked his responsibilities, but the second made himself personally accountable for fixing the problem. He took ownership of the situation, apologized, and found a solution.

Series on Ownership and Accountability: The Lazy Farmer

People like to blame their problems on bad fortune or on actions of other people. However, is it not much easier and more productive to accept that if is there is a problem there will be a solution. An attitude of ownership can help find many answers to difficult situations.

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The rain gods had been smiling the whole night. The roads were muddy and the potholes were filled to the brim. It was the day for the market and Raju the farmer was riding his cart along the country road. He had to reach the market early so that he can sell his hay. It was very difficult for the horses to drag the load through the deep mud. On his journey, suddenly the wheels of the horse cart sank into the mire.

The more the horses pulled, the deeper the wheel sank. Raju climbed down from his seat and stood beside his cart. He searched all around but could not find anyone around to help him. Cursing his bad luck, he looked dejected and defeated. He didn’t make the slightest effort to get down on the wheel and lift it up by himself. Instead, he started cursing his luck for what happened. Looking up at the sky, he started shouting at God, “I am so unlucky! Why has this happened to me? Oh God, come down to help me.”

After a long wait, God finally appeared before Raju. He asked Raju, “Do you think you can move the chariot by simply looking at it and whining about it? Nobody will help you unless you make some effort to help yourself. Did you try to get the wheel out of the pothole by yourself? Get up and put your shoulder to wheel and you will soon find the way out.”

Raju was ashamed of himself. He bent down and put his shoulder to the wheel and urged on the horses. In no time the wheel was out of the mire. Raju realized that had he taken ownership of his situation earlier, he wouldn’t have wasted so much time. He was happy to learn his lesson and carried on his journey happily.

Series on Ownership and Accountability: Nobody is Perfect

In life we take many decisions, some might turn out correct and others not so. However, it takes a strong individual to recognize not only internally but also publicly that a decision taken by him/her was off mark. Taking ownership and being accountable is about doing the right thing regardless of how difficult the same may be.

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On June second of this year, Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, was one out from pitching a perfect game; something that is rare in major league baseball. However on the last out the first base umpire Jim Joyce ruled the runner safe, putting an end to Galarraga’s quest for a perfect game. Joyce believed he made the right call until he saw the replay for himself after the game; the replays showed the runner was clearly out and that Galarraga should have got credit for a perfect game. Joyce, the umpire, immediately went to the 28-year-old pitcher from Venezuela after the game and apologized for getting the call wrong.

Holy cow, backup, rewind… let me say that again. The umpire, Joyce, went and apologized for getting the call wrong. That is accountability in all of its purest glory folks!

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And then Galarraga turned around and forgave him for blowing a call that cost him something he may never ever do in his career again; throw a perfect game. “He probably feels worse than me,” Galarraga said. “Nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s human. I understand. I give the guy a lot of credit for saying, ‘I need to talk to you.’ You don’t see an umpire tell you that after a game. I gave him a hug.”

Wow! I love it when people take accountability. And I love it when people forgive. Whether it is my kids, friends, umpires or leaders, I love watching people do the right thing because it is the right thing. Taking accountability for one’s actions builds huge trust dividends. Do you think feelings of trust and respect for Joyce have improved across Major League Baseball? Absolutely! It’s interesting how when we try not to cover up our pride we become people of character that others genuinely love and respect.