"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Toxicity in the Workplace

Recently I have been working with a team of people who found themselves in a toxic work environment over several years. They are all passionate about the mission of the organization and fully endorse its cause and business line.

However, there were critical negative issues with management, leadership, and communication throughout the company. The senior staff belittled people, micromanaged them, second-guessed everything, were dishonest, and kept secrets -- even from each other, Because of their deep belief and commitment to the work and care for their co-workers, most employees stayed despite the problems, believing that if that they just work hard enough, they can make things better and continue their good work.

Unfortunately, the toxicity of the environment overtook and overshadowed the company's work. It also manifested in serious degradation of the workforce. A number of employees became complacent, non-productive, and even detrimental to the organization. Worse yet, several employees become ill, some even requiring professional therapeutic assistance. A few who ultimately left the company had a difficult time committing to a new company or were not able to face starting a new job altogether.

Most of the workers were intent on not giving up on the company and its mission. What they did not fully understand is that correcting deeply embedded toxicity like this takes more than just their determination and loyalty, and that the solution lies in EVERYONE being on board. Each cog in the wheel of a workplace must be in place to consciously work to make things better, more effective, and healthier. If the entire team, including every employee, senior leadership, and management at all levels, do not make this a priority the resulting side effects will ultimately destroy and bury, not only the work and the success of the company but the mental and physical health of the workers.

Through his social media "Leadership First" sites, Gifford Thomas, author of The Inspirational Leader, Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible, has this to say about the impact of toxic leadership: "Our workplace has virtually become a second home; however, when the workplace becomes a source of stress for people, that stress can take a more substantial toll on our health than we realize.”

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Jean Kim, leadership can be one of the significant causes of this stress, and when a leader displays certain behaviors and characteristics that contribute to a negative, even hostile working environment, it’s a warning sign that the environment is dangerous to your mental health.

Leaders' misuse of their influence can quickly trickle down into their employees’ psyches, causing incredible distress, betrayal, anger, and can even lead to mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and even trauma. Look out for the following traits and behaviors. This list will help you identify toxic leadership and work environments to avoid. 

Note the overwhelming theme of communication here. Almost all of these can be illuminated by looking through the lens of communication. How are leaders communicating with people, and what are they communicating with their words and actions?

Only open, honest, inclusive communication can help reduce the potential for toxicity.


Friday, May 29, 2020

Coffee, Tea, or Leadership?

Not too long ago, my wife and I participated in a local flea market in the parking lot of an antique shop.  As requested, we arrived at 6:00 a.m. to set up for the event, which was to start at 8:00. While we were setting up, other vendors pulled in and began to get their own goods in order. All of us were tired, cold, and working hard to meet our deadline to be set up. 

Soon a young girl came around to all the booths, offering free banana bread muffins to the vendors and letting us know that there was free hot coffee and tea in the shop. She made several passes, always with a quick and warm smile. When someone said “thank you,” her response was always an enthusiastic “you’re welcome!”

A little later in the day, this same young lady stopped by to look at a couple of things we had available at our booth. First, she noticed an antique camera. She didn’t even know what it was (film and flashbulbs!), but she knew that her mother likes cameras. With a few dollar bills in her hand, she asked how much it was. My wife said gently explained that although our prices are negotiable, "it’s probably still out of your range.”  The girl thanked my wife and walked away.  We were to find out later that she went straight to her father to ask how one negotiated for something they wanted. Her father explained how it worked, but persuaded her that as thoughtful a gift as a camera would be, her mom would be just as happy knowing that the girl had thought of her.

Later she came back and was transfixed by a doll we had at our booth.  She asked how much it cost.  I said, $10, but for you, we’ll take $8.  She thanked me and again walked away.  Several times throughout the day, we saw her walking around the flea market with her two younger brothers in tow.  She came back periodically to tell my wife about her progress in trying to sell a few things in order to afford the doll.  Her last report was, “I just need to sell two more things and I can get the doll!”

Interestingly, the doll was Emily the Entrepreneur. How appropriate!

About an hour after that final report we saw our little would-be customer with her two younger brothers, both clutching ice cream cones. We thought, “Well, there goes our sale!” Later we were to learn so much more about this little entrepreneur with a heart of gold…

We decided that since she was working so hard and had been so caring about everyone other than herself, we wanted to give the girl the doll she had so admired as a gift. We couldn’t find her, so we put out the word to others. Soon a man approached us. It was the young lady’s father, who wanted to thank us.  He told us about how he tries to instill in his children, the importance of being considerate of others, and explained how proud he is that his daughter is always thinking of her brothers, parents, and others before herself.  He said that she denied herself the pleasure of the doll because her brothers wanted ice cream and had no money of their own to buy it.

He came back later he told us something that really struck a chord. He said that when he got home and surprised his daughter with the doll, he explained that she received it as a reward, not because she was successful in selling things that day, but because she had been recognized as a GOOD PERSON, and had made people happy by her words and actions.  He said (with a proud tear in his eye) that his daughter looked up at him and said, “I’m just trying to be like you, dad.”

We teared up, too.

And so it goes… being a leader (whether it be of a family, of a company, of a team or troop), your actions and how you represent yourself matters and has a ripple effect on those around you.  From father to daughter to brothers, this family unit shows us that by sharing your beliefs, communicating their importance, and acknowledging others’ accomplishments, you can light the TORCH in others, encouraging them to share their own passion with those around them. 

Friday, March 6, 2020

It's Employee Appreciation Day -- and it should be every day

National Employee Appreciation Day, the 1st Friday in March each year, focuses on one of an organization’s greatest assets – its people.

Recognition and appreciation are known as some of the key motivational factors in the workplace. It demonstrates how much leaders value their employees and keeps morale high. Employers who express appreciation tend to increase employee job satisfaction as well, and that usually leads to even better performance.

As important as it is to show your employees how much you appreciate them, it’s equally important to do so on a personal level. Receiving a reward that isn’t useful, doesn’t suit an employee’s lifestyle, or doesn’t show that you truly understand the achievement can have the complete opposite effect and actually eliminate all positivity. Let them know that you are not just celebrating a day on the calendar, but that you are celebrating THEM -- because they, and what they do, matter.

Even though people’s personalities differ, most employees are goal-driven. Earning an award, a thank you or other recognition motivates them to reach even higher goals. 

Need some ideas to get you started? Here are just a few: 
  • Offer flexibility in the work schedule to show that you understand their need to balance their professional and personal lives. If possible, allowing a little flexibility can reap huge benefits in a recharged workforce.
  • A simple thank you note can make someone’s day. Think of the last time someone took the time to acknowledge you, your hard work, or your thoughtfulness in a simple note. Didn’t those few words make you feel like you could fly? 
  • Celebrate a team effort – if a team pulled together to make a miracle happen, reward them with an office pizza party, casual dress day, or even close the office early so they can spend some well-earned time with family. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive… just a timely reward to show your unsolicited appreciation.
  • Cultivate, maintain and encourage an environment of creativity around the office. Employees who are allowed to stretch their minds, try new things, and feel listened to can increase productivity with their energy and new skills. They will feel empowered to pass their energy onto others, developing strong, collaborative teams. 

What can you think of that would work well in your organization to show your employees how much you value them? And remember, appreciation of your colleagues doesn’t have to be limited to just one day or even one week. Imagine the outcome of a workforce that feels understood and appreciated when their accomplishments in the workplace are regularly acknowledged and celebrated all year round! As confidence and pride grow, so does determination, loyalty, and productivity, not to mention a more healthy workplace!


Sunday, May 13, 2018

We Could Never Get Away With Anything - Mom Always Knew!

What is it about a mother’s intuitive instincts that she could always tell when we’re in trouble, when we need help, or if we’ve broken the rules.

Growing up, mom always knew what my brother and I were up to. My mother should have been a police tracker or forensic investigator, because she could read imperceptible impressions in the carpet and invisible hand prints on the walls. She knew when we’d had friends over to the house while she was at work, even though we weren’t supposed to, and could tell who they were, what rooms we had been in and what we were doing in them.

Even though I never saw her watch the news, read a newspaper or even listen to a news report on the radio, she always knew when it was going to rain (“take an umbrella”), who we shouldn’t hang around with (“that kid is going to get into trouble”), and when we should or shouldn’t do something. I remember her telling us we couldn’t go ice skating at a pond one day – even though we’d skated there all the time. The ice had broken and one of our friends fell in. He was uninjured, but still, it could have been worse. But she knew!

When we got older and moved away, she still knew when something was going on. If one of us got a promotion, new job or something else significant, she would happen to call with an expectant tone in her voice asking if we had something to tell her. If money was tight or something needed repair, there would suddenly be a check in the mail for a few bucks that she would say was “just because.”

We used to swear she was a witch.

She didn’t really have magical powers (I don’t think), but she did have a heck of a network of informants. Everyone in the neighborhood knew mom. She was, and still is, a stunning woman and people always wanted to know her.

Let me tell you, it’s not easy growing up with the “hot mom” in the neighborhood.

At my wedding, the photographer was so enthralled with mom,
there are more pictures of her ithan of the bride and groom.
My 5th grade teacher used to send notes home with me to request parent-teacher meetings with my mother. I was a loquacious child in elementary school, usually laughing and joking in class. So these meeting requests were frequent. It is only later that I realized that other kids who were much more troublesome weren’t having their parents called into school as often. Turns out my young, single teacher had a bit of a crush on mom and he wanted every opportunity to flirt with her.  When I realized this, I tried to intercede by checking the “no meeting” box and used my burgeoning artistic talent to copy her signature. He was so disappointed, he called my mother to ask why she didn’t want to meet with him. I was grounded for weeks.

One benefit of having a good looking mother was that, even though I was a lousy athlete, I got to play on sports teams because the other kids and my coaches wanted to see my mom when she dropped me off or picked me up from practice.

It was frustrating as I got into high school and college when classmates who hadn’t met her before tried to hit on my “sister.” And she was intimidating to any potential girlfriends.

Yep, she is 80 years old in this pic!

Bless her, she still is turning heads at 80. She’s married to a man more than a decade younger than she and they perform as singers and dancers at senior centers and other venues.

So other than the fact that today is Mothers Day, why am I writing this in a leadership blog?

Because mom taught me some very vital life and leadership lessons. 

  • Pay attention to small details. You can learn a lot about what is going on and who is doing what by paying attention.
  • Trust your gut instincts. If you get a feeling that something is wrong or something is right, open yourself to delve further and find the facts.
  • Create a great network. You can’t know everything, but by interacting with others, you can learn much of what you need to know to make decisions.

Happy Mothers Day, Mom. Thanks for teaching me these important basics. I love you. 

Keep on rocking the world!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Lessons from a man named 'Flower'

Early in life, I learned something that has become sort of a way of life for me.  It’s a way to view the world around us and how we can make the most of what the world has to offer.  

But in order for you to understand this message, you need to know about the man who originated the concept and about his humble beginnings.  

On January 8, 1931, a boy was born to a poor Italian family living in the area of New York City known as Harlem.  As he grew up the boy soon learned that the middle name his mother gave him to represent the beauty and love he had brought into her life -- Fiore – would cause him trouble.  Back then, Harlem was primarily an Italian neighborhood, and the Italian kids he grew up with all loved to pick on the small boy with the middle name that translates to the word “Flower.”  He had to become tough, this boy.  He took many a beating, but learned to give back as good as he got. 

To add to his woes, the boy’s father was an alcoholic who frequently drifted away on binges for long periods at a time, usually taking what meager earnings he had with him and leaving the family to scrape for food.  The boy had to help bring food into the house, so he worked at odd jobs – carrying packages, painting, woodworking – always learning new ways in which he could to earn a few pennies. 

By the time the boy was 13 years old, he had four more siblings and his father had disappeared for good.  So he left school and started to work full time to support his mother, two brothers and two sisters.  Again doing whatever he could to earn some coins.  He continuously learned new trades – delivery boy, carpenter, janitor, short-order cook, stock boy -- becoming a sponge for any subject that would help make him branch out and do more things to earn enough money to feed the family. 

As his siblings grew, instead of having them go to work and try to take some of the burden off of himself, he encouraged them to stay in school. To make as much of themselves as they could, while he continued to support them. Like others of his generation, he spent some time in the Army -- also sending that paycheck home.  

Years later, that young man married and ultimately had another family to feed – his wife and two sons.  He encouraged his sons to do the same thing.  To stay in school, to enrich themselves, to learn something new everyday – not just in school but everywhere, from every experience.  Meanwhile, he had many jobs and tried many things – truck driver, warehouse manager, equipment operator, plumber.  When work dried up in one area, he’d learn to do something else. 

By the time he died in 1989 – way too young at 58 years old and shortly after his new daughter was born – he knew how to do practically everything.  He could fix anything and there was little he hadn’t tried. 

He approached life with a great sense of humor.
This remarkable man never achieved financial greatness or worldly renown.  When he died, he was still a humble man by “worldly standards.”  He was still a blue collar worker, although in mid-management at that point.  His last job was as an exterminator, but he had reveled in his newly learned knowledge about pest control.  And he had approached everything in his life with the same vigor and excitement. And with a great sense of humor, too. 

In his small piece of the world, he made a very large impact and had a very important message.  “The world,” he would say “is an amazing place and life is way too short to miss out on all it has to offer.  The whole world is your classroom – you should learn from it.”   

It is this wisdom that I share with you today in recognition of what would have been his 87th birthday. 

Learn something new every day.  Period.  That’s the message.  Learn something new everyday. 

I’m not necessarily talking about formal classes, although they can be very rewarding, but learn from everything around you.  Each and every day brings us a new experience, a new opportunity to broaden ourselves, to improve ourselves.  No day should be wasted. 

With each experience we should come away enriched, more the wiser for what we have learned – even if that lesson was simply what NOT to do. 

Don’t be afraid to try new things.  So many people block themselves off from the many rich experiences that life has to offer. 

Try new foods.  You don’t know what you’ll like until you try it.  Some people say that they eat only certain things because they know they like them, so why take a chance on not liking something else.  My answer to that is, what if you like this something new even better? 

Travel.  See the world. Or see the country.  Or even the state or the city.  Take a different route home.  On the weekend, instead of sitting at home watching the ball game, get in the car, drive up to the mountains, get off the highway and just get lost for a couple of hours on the back roads.  You’ll ultimately find another major road, or you can use an old-fashioned map, ask for directions, or use your GPS crutch if you need it, but think of the beautiful scenery you might get to see.  Or that little hole-in-the-wall restaurant you might find where they make the best burgers on the planet. 

My wife and I have had some of the best meals in places like this. 

Or that little mom-and-pop antique shop that you may stumble across that has the very same dinnerware you had in your house when you were a kid and can bring back a flood of wonderful childhood memories.  I found a lamp that my grandmother had when I was a kid! 

Listen to a variety of music.  Go to live performances of all kinds. 

Take classes and read books, not only in your field, but in other areas that might interest you. Broaden your horizons. 

And don’t forget to apply this to work too.  Try new ways of doing things.  Be open minded to suggestions and ideas.  If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.  If you want something better, you’ve got to try something new. 

And most importantly, pass it on.  Instill this ethic to those around you and you will find that you will enjoy your time together more – whether that is family or coworkers. 

If you take every experience – good and bad – and learn something from it, you will find yourself less stressed, able to deal with change more readily (perhaps even embracing it); able to deal with crises more easily; able to think quickly when you need to.  You’ll be more eligible for promotions (if that is what you desire) or ready to take on a new career field (if that is what you desire) or perhaps ready to play at your new hobbies in your retirement (if that is what you desire). 

You will find it hard to be grouchy.  Sure, you’ll still have bad days – we all do – but they will be easier to deal with. 

I have embraced this lesson of continuous learning.  I learned this lesson first-hand from that hard-working wise man I was telling you about.  The one with the Italian middle name that meant “Flower”. 

Yeah, that's dad and me. 
I can think of no better tribute to my father than to live by his ethics and to spread his advice to others. 

So take this message to heart.  Enrich your life.  Learn from every experience and expand your experiences to expand your learning. 

I hope you have learned something new today.  

Happy birthday, dad. I love you and miss you. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Day of Service, Month of Mentoring, Lifetime of Reward

Today we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., but not just his birthday, but also what he stood for. The day is rightfully called the Martin Luther King Day of Service and encourages involvement in our communities. Dr. King inspired an ethic of selfless service to others. How appropriate then that the month of his birth is designated as National Mentoring Month, for what is mentoring than giving of yourself to others.
There is nothing so important as helping others to learn and grow, to make good decisions, to not be defeated by mistakes, and to have a foundation of support.

I have been fortunate to have great mentors in my life, some formal and most informal. The informal ones were role models, people I watched and learned from, who inspired me to behave in certain ways, to take action, to get involved.

Growing up in the volatile 1960s and 70s, Dr. King was one of those inspirational role models for me, an informal mentor, from whom I learned tolerance, acceptance, and my place as a servant to my community.  I learned the wrongness of inequality, and how the world can be greatly improved when every individual has the opportunity to contribute and fulfill their destiny.

These built upon the basic foundations begun by my very first mentor, my father.
John Fiore Verrico, who would have celebrated his 86th birthday last week and I still feel the void left in our lives when we lost him way too young nearly 28 years ago. Dad was one of those guys who could do just about anything, even though he had no formal training or education. He left school at a young age to go to work to help support his mother and siblings after his father was gone. But he made the best of every situation. If he needed a job and didn’t know how to do that particular type of work, he taught himself the skills he needed.  

Dad loved everyone and everyone loved him. There were no boundaries of color, age, gender, religious belief. None of it mattered. He viewed people as individuals and judged them only how they conducted themselves and how they treated others. The only people that he was intolerant of were those who were intolerant of others.

Dad taught us to learn something new every day – a motto I have taken to heart and live my life by.

Throughout my school life, I had some great teachers and coaches at various points and the ones who stand out the most were the ones who encouraged me to try. Taught me equality, team cohesion, and individual value. They inspired me to reach beyond my self-perceived boundaries and not be afraid to fail.
To this day, I still wonder where my career would have gone had it not been for the very first Chief Petty Officer I worked for in the Navy. Paul Puskar, known lovingly to all aboard USS BUTTE as “Chief Push,” was my first formal mentor. He let me try new things, he let me make mistakes, and he enabled me to learn from them. He held me accountable, but never let me actually fail in an irrevocable way. He was not above sitting in the studio with the new kid through the wee hours of the morning recording radio and television shows that we’d air the next day. Some of my fondest memories were putting together "Chief Push's Time Machine" and the "Rock-the-BUTTE Show" with Push. Although he retired only a year after we first met, he stayed in my life and showed up for my Navy retirement 23 years later. Not a dry eye in the place when he read the Retired Chief's Creed.

As I became more senior in the Navy and later in civilian life with a plethora of experiences, I have tried to emulate all those great people and live to share what I have learned – as a formal and informal mentor whenever I can.
One other thing I've learned -- the most selfishly wonderful thing about mentoring, is that I continue my own learning and growing with each experience.

So, for Martin Luther King’s Day of Service, for National Mentoring Month, and for every day, reach out and serve.

Be a mentor.
Be a mentee.
Be open-minded, learn something from every experience, and share what you’ve learned.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fresh start in 2017

The ball has dropped, the fireworks are ended, the champagne a long-gone memory, and most of us have returned to the workplace. If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to the transition to a freshly minted new year and new opportunities to learn, shine, and share with family and friends, old and new, including those we haven't met yet.
Looking back on 2016, I must admit that I am glad the year is over. It was quite a roller coaster, including a battle with Godzilla-sized kidney stone that laid me out for a few weeks. I don’t want to do that again – ever!
But more than just my personal challenges, the world lost some of the most significant talent in music and entertainment. More than 250 celebrities died in 2016, beginning with Natalie Cole last New Year and ending with William Christopher, the beloved Father Mulcahy from M.A.S.H. on this New Year’s Eve. I know my personal soundtrack was devastated by the loss of icons like David Bowie, Prince, Keith Emerson, Leonard Cohen, and George Michaels. I also mourn the loss of the brilliant Gene Wilder, whose comic wit I could only hope to emulate, and Van Williams, who played one of the heroes of my youth, The Green Hornet. And I can’t even imagine the family’s pain in losing both mother Debbie Reynolds and daughter Carrie Fisher within days of each other.
2016 also saw hideous acts of terrorism around the world, claiming innocent lives for no other reason than intolerance and mindless hatred. There can be no justification for such acts and I can only hope the new year brings some healing and peace. Although the New Year’s Eve nightclub attack in Turkey is not a good indicator.
Yes, I actually wore that suit!
All of these things stand out as stark reminders that life can be unpredictably short. We need to appreciate every moment we have. Take time to spend with loved ones and with our fellow human beings. Volunteer, help others, and take part in our communities. Take time to improve our own health and well-being. Take time for personal and professional development. Learn something new every day. Be bold and don't be afraid to fail, and don't be afraid to be laughed at.
Try new foods, start new hobbies or restart those passions that we may have pushed aside because we were “too busy.”
It’s staggering how busy our lives can get, and even more staggering when we realize we were busy doing nothing that we really wanted to do. I’m guilty of this myself. I tend to take on too many projects – my wife calls it “helium arm” – and put off the things that should be more important. Yes, the guy who teaches work-life balance seems to have a personal flaw in this area. Learn from my foibles and do what I say, not what I do. ;-)
So, going into 2017, I am looking forward to re-connecting with friends and family who we did not spend enough time with in recent years, making new friends, and adding new chapters to the rich story of our lives. I’ll plan for us to travel together more for fun, instead of just me traveling for work. And I’ll restart some of those artistic projects I’ve been putting off.

Not my desk, but the physical manifestation of my inbox.
Another particular goal is to declutter. Those of you who’ve seen my office or, even worse, my home office, are gasping with shock at that statement. My inbox is even worse. But it’s time to dig out and start fresh. Cleaning up and clearing out helps encourage that new, fresh-start feeling. After all, someone told me that my desk has a beautiful faux woodgrain underneath all that stuff. ;-)
So, it looks like I’ll be busy going into the New Year, but busy in a good way.
To all my family, friends, and people we have yet to meet, I send my best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year filled with love and laughter.

Happy New Year everyone!