What Happens at Work...Stays at Work?

I recently got to speak to a group of Human Resources students at Portland State University, and I went in to talk to them about integrity. megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

My intention was to share with them how powerful integrity can be in our careers, and how it not only sets us apart from others, but it keeps us healthy and full.

One definition of integrity is "the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished," meaning that when we're living in alignment with our values, we're complete.

The truth is, there are a lot of working people who have lost integrity. They've been shaped and rewarded over time to cut corners. They choose to hide their mistakes, or blame them on others. They're so afraid of not fitting in that they never challenge the status quo.

A funny thing can happen when we're part of an organization led by people without integrity: we become like them.

We excuse behavior that we'd never excuse in our personal lives. We look away from problems that we don't want to deal with. We stay silent even when the question that needs to be asked is burning inside of us.

We justify all this because, "that's business." Or "that's just what happens at work." We compartmentalize it even though the fact is that living out of alignment with our values erodes us over time.

Let's pretend that each of us is a stone, and every time we choose not to say how we really feel, act in a way that we don't admire, or go along with something we know is wrong, a drop of water hits us in the same spot.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantAfter years and years of this, our surface erodes. We have an indent. Or a hole forms and the air can flow through us.

This doesn't mean that we're bad or that there's anything to be ashamed of - as social creatures looking for connection, it's natural for us to seek the path that most helps us fit in.

But we're fooling ourselves if we think that we can live without integrity at work and stay whole.

What happens at work definitely doesn't stay at work. 

You carry it in your body, even if you feel like you can mentally or emotionally shut off. Those drips of water still hit your rocky surface, and while you can withstand changing for a while, eventually the water will win (it always does).

Fortunately, everything can change. You can regenerate. You can decide to notice the things at work that aren't in alignment with your values or who you want to be in the world.

You can notice how it feels to carry out policies that diminish people.

You can notice how it feels to enforce rules that you know are stupid.

You can notice how it feels to chase money that will go to pay for your company's destruction of the planet.

You always have a choice, and if you can get a little quiet and reflective, your insides will tell you when something is out of integrity for you.

You'll feel it. It might show up as stress, discomfort, a flushed feeling, fatigue, or back pain. Getting dripped on all day is uncomfortable, but luckily, it's not inevitable.

The question is always, "Who do I want to be?"

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIf you want to be yourself, which I know is someone with a lot of integrity who deeply cares for others, then you have to be aware of what's eroding you.

Then, you have to decide whether or not you want to be someone who is eroded over time.

This conundrum is less about your work environment and more about your personal choice to live in alignment with your values.

Every work environment, no matter how "evolved" will create opportunities for erosion - pressures or actions that don't line up with us. Some work environments are much more corrosive, however, and if you're doing work all day every day that you know is hurting yourself, others, or the earth, I'd encourage you to revamp your resume and get out of there as fast as you can.

For most of us, however, this is a matter of simply choosing to speak up, to offer a new way of doing things, and to be an example of integrated living.

The next time you're given a choice between doing what feels true to you and keeping up with "business as usual," choose you.

What happens at work can either erode you over time, or it can nurture and expand you, but it will always stay with you either way.

Why Recruiting at Your Organization Might Be Doomed

LinkedIn just released their annual report, Small and Mid-Sized Business Recruiting Trends 2017. This report is a survey of about 2,600 small to mid-sized companies that includes data about what they're planning to do in recruiting for the next year. I'll give you some of the highlights of the report:

  • 57% of small and mid-sized (SMB) businesses plan to increase hiring next year
  • Most SMBs are focused on leveraging automation (those applicant tracking systems where you upload your resume) to speed things up and "decrease human bias"
  • SMBs report they're most focused on "quality of hire," which is measured by how long the new hire stays with the company, satisfaction of the hiring manager, and the time to fill (which they report should be <2 months, ideally)
  • 50% of SMBs will not increase their budgets
  • Their top concern: competition with other firms

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantSo, if I had to sum this all up in one sentence, it's this:

Businesses want to hire more people that are a good fit faster than they have before, but with even less human interaction. (Oh, and they're all planning on doing the same thing and are, rightfully, worried about competition).

The authors of the report wrote all of this without irony, but I felt confounded and sad while reading it.

When are organizations going to learn that the answer to hiring the right people doesn't lie in the old "pump and dump" recruiting model? 

I guess I can see why there's a wish to leverage automation - human bias is real and pervasive, and most candidates agree the process should be faster - but increased computer interaction is not the answer.

The need to hire for fit in an organization conflicts with our obsession with speed and efficiency.

Until companies think outside the old model of hiring, we will continue to hear about how there's "no talent," and amazing, gifted candidates will keep getting screened out because their resumes don't have all the right words in them.

The companies that will win "the war for talent" are the ones that make the effort to focus on human connection.

They will create people-centered recruiting practices that might take four months instead of two but will result in wildly better results.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThese are the organizations willing to look beyond the resume, invest in training their managers to limit hiring bias instead of outsourcing the problem to software, and who treat their current employees - and candidates - like people.

The "war for talent" is a farce created by organizations that don't want to change how they treat people.

Like Seth Godin wrote, "it's a lie because many organizations only pretend that they’re looking for talent."

Many organizations are just looking for someone who checks off the right boxes, follows instructions, and will keep their head down. For those people, maybe the transactional nature of recruiting today is the right fit.

But if you're looking for the imaginative people who will pour their heart into the work and up-level your organization, things have to change.

You already have everything you need to transform this empty, deathbed hiring game: you have real humans on your recruiting team who are capable of empathy, intuition, and relating to potential hires.

There are real people working at the company who can tell it like it is and, if they're treated well, will recruit their friends for you. There's money to pay the company's bills that can cover the cost of a lunch or coffee date with someone you hope will join the team one day.

You've got everything you need...you just have to choose to be different.

Choose to be different from all the other firms and recruiters who will continue to automate and scramble for the few qualified candidates who are still willing to play their tired old game.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI work with individuals every day who are bright, creative, and ready to put the work in, but who get stalled by applicant tracking systems or recruiters who are programmed to look only for the people who have done the same work before.

The game is rigged, I tell them, and it is. If you're a recruiter or have anything to do with hiring in your organization, my guess is that you're frustrated with the game, too.

No one is pleased, but we keep playing it, even though it feels fake and doomed.

No matter whether you're someone who wants to be hired or someone looking to hire, I want to leave you with a nugget of advice:

Do whatever you can to make the process feel more authentic to you.

If you're recruiting for a company that totally sucks and that you can't honestly recommend to the candidates you're talking to, dial down the enthusiasm a little and find ways to have integrity while you're doing your job. Or leave - that company doesn't deserve you, anyway.

If you're applying for jobs and are discouraged by the black hole job search approach, find a new one. Talk to real people via informational interviews. Quit sending your resume out cold. Hire an innovative career coach. Do what you need to in order to do this with integrity.

If enough of us stop playing the game, the game will have to change and become human again.

How to Ignite Change in Others

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWe all need an extra dose of support at various stages in our lives, and in a society without strong social connections or elder-apprentice relationships in place, we often have to "outsource" that supporting role to therapists, psychologists, and coaches. I'm a coach, and while I don't love labeling what I do in such structured terms, you have to start somewhere. I use the term "Career Coach" to describe my focus on supporting people who want to thrive in their worklives.

It's easy to recognize a good coach when you see one, but not always easy to describe what makes those coaches different from others who use the same label but just don't ignite the same thing inside of us.

So, I've been doing some research at HR Think Tank, a program I co-lead, and also in my Facebook community. I asked people to describe the attributes of their favorite mentors or coaches, and some themes appeared. Getting this feedback has been so helpful to me in my work, and I wanted to share it with you today so that you can use it either as you coach others, or as you look for someone worthy of coaching you.

The three categories below are the primary ways that good coaches ignite change within people - change that already wants to take place but needs space to come alive.

Three Powerful Ways You Can Ignite Change:

1. They have personal integrity and model authenticity.

Good coaches and mentors walk the walk, and it's not always pretty. These people will be the ones to speak the truth in a room full of liars, they'll be working on their own development and well-being, and when you meet them, you'll know that what you see is what you get.

They make you feel at ease because you know this person will do the right thing, be open with you, and give you the space to show up completely and fully as yourself.

2. They're appropriately vulnerable. 

Being vulnerable is part of being authentic, but it's so important that I'm pulling it out to stand on its own. A good coach gives you the freedom to try things, make mistakes, and ask "stupid" questions. They do this because they're open with you about the mistakes they've made in the past and even about the things they struggle with currently.

They know the line between showing vulnerability to support your growth and vulnerability to receive inappropriate validation or affirmation. A good coach ignites change in us because they show us where they've been stuck in the past and how they got through it. That requires having enough courage to be vulnerable and shed the need to be "the expert" in the room.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant3. They're genuinely curious about you. 

I met with a coach a while ago who is pretty well-known in my community and who I believe really cares about the work she does. That said, I felt like shit after meeting with her, and you know why? It was because she launched into coaching me before she even really knew anything about me.

It doesn't feel good to get advice from someone who doesn't take the time to understand us first, and a good coach takes the time. A good coach uses whatever tools she has to draw you out, learn how you see the world, and figure out what you - soulful you - wants to be and do in the world.

Here are a few things missing from the list of feedback I received: credentials, the number of hours a coach has practiced, the degrees they hold, the rate that they charge, their age, their job title...I could go on.

What matters to the people who gave me this feedback, and what matters to me, is the connection that a coach can create. That connection, when it includes the three big attributes above, is what sparks change in us.

Hearing from folks as part of this mini research project has made me even more motivated to be this kind of coach.

If you coach others as part of your work as a manager, mentor, or even as their peer, I hope you'll focus on these attributes as well and release those stories that tell us we're not "good enough" to help others.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIf you need some support in your career right now and something in this post resonated with you, I'd love to talk more.

After November, I won't be taking on any additional 12-week coaching clients until May 2017, so this is the right time to reach out if you think you could use some help getting to the next stage in your worklife.

Click here to learn more about how to work with me.

How Connection Can Transform Your Work

If I could do my last corporate job over again, I would focus so much more on building human connection with the people I worked with. For lots of reasons, at that point in my life I just couldn't connect with folks at a very authentic level - mostly because I didn't know myself anymore.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantBut if I could go back in time as who I am now, that's what I would do: ditch the pressure to be "professional," show up as my real self, and see people for who they really were. I would be honest with them about how I was doing, I would laugh a lot more, and I would ask the deeper questions that I wanted to speak but kept inside because it felt safer.

Every human being is desperate for connection with other human beings.

In today's disconnected (or "misconnected") world, many of us feel unseen, unheard, and unknown. Without being seen, heard, or known, we feel empty and lost, grasping for a sense of context in which to put ourselves.

For many of us in the United States, we're especially disconnected, because unless we're part of the Native American heritage, this land isn't even where we come from. Sure, you might have been born here, but it wasn't that long ago that your lineage was deeply rooted in another land, a place where your people may have been for centuries, cultivating knowing and community with the Earth and each other.

So here we are, today, on land we don't know, surrounded by strangers, each trying to find our own small tribe in which to make sense of things.

This sense of disconnection follows us and pervades our workplaces, and people are growing weary of it.

Without community elsewhere, many people are looking to their organizations or teams for that sense of camaraderie, understanding, and being seen. It's why things like "culture,""the coaching mindset," and "employee engagement" have become such popular topics.

These days, my work is focused almost entirely on connection, because without it, the people I serve won't feel supported enough to look at the deep, dark questions that brought them to me in the first place.

They won't feel comfortable crying, or yelling, or wrestling with the fact that birthing their gifts and creating a worklife they love is hard fucking work.

So we have to connect.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThey have to feel seen, and heard, and understood. They have to see me as human, not as an automaton who just takes notes and repeats their words.

Developing deeper connection was pretty uncomfortable for me in the first few months of my coaching practice. That "be professional" mindset was deeply entrenched within me, and in many ways, it still shows up - but only when I need it to.

As I've relaxed my need to feel like I'm "doing it right" or being "the expert," I've been able to really see my clients in their fullness as complex human beings, and that allows for such deeper work to happen.

Before I start the 12-week process with a client and for each of the women in A Wild New Work, I do something that always feels pretty scary:

I prepare a gift for them.

I'm not sure why I do this, I just really like it, and I think it builds that connection right from the beginning. And it's an intimate gift - I choose aromatherapies and stones that I believe support what they really need at a deep level. I meditate and pull a card for them that has a message on it that is very personal. And I tell them all of this, even though I haven't necessarily met them in person before.

But I do it because I want them to know how strongly I support what they're about to create, even though it makes me feel really vulnerable.

How would things change if instead of getting a company notebook or ID badge when you started a job, you got a gift from your hiring manager that was about you, as a human, and was designed to support you succeeding in the next phase of your journey?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhat if you got a long handwritten card with it that explained how grateful they are for your presence there, and how excited they are to see you grow and contribute your unique strengths to their team?

When we connect in a "high touch, low tech" way, which is more and more what people are demanding in today's economy, we transform ourselves and the other person that we're reaching out to.

It shifts things.

It makes them more real, and colorful, and it enables us to do the hard work that we've set out to do.

There are always opportunities for connection, no matter what you do for work. You can get someone a coffee, be honest about how your weekend really was, or be fully present with your co-worker as she tells you her father passed away.

Connecting requires us to be brave, but without it, we're doomed to numbness, loneliness, and a life without much beauty in it.

Choose connection, always.

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI think I believe in ghosts. I don't think they're scary things that are out to get us, but it makes sense to me that there would be "people" who are a little lost and stuck in a sort of limbo - no longer in their bodies, but nowhere else, either. It's almost Halloween (or Samhain) in the United States, and many of our ancestors believed that during this time of year, the "veil" between the human and spiritual realms was the thinnest. Lines get crossed, things get blurry.

If ghosts are humans who are now lost and lack the substance of being in a real body, then I have some scary news:

Ghosts are haunting your workplace.

They're everywhere.

In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey tells us about what's called the "Character Ethic," which was how people in the U.S. thought of personal success up until the World War I era.

In the Character Ethic model, personal success and prestige was linked to the quality of your character and whether or not you possessed traits like integrity, humility, honesty, etc.

After World War I, something shifted, and what became popular and valued instead was what he calls the "Personality Ethic," which is about your social image, your attitude, and your ability to influence others.

Susan Cain also details this shift in her book Quiet, and it's fascinating. Instead of focusing on who people were inside, we began to value the image that those people projected.

We created a cult of personality, where it doesn't matter as much if you have integrity - what matters is whether or not you can you work a room.

Are you projecting the right image?

Are you doing all the right things?

Do you have a lot of friends?

Are you popular?

This is an over-simplification of these concepts that doesn't take into account the overtones of classism, racism, and other "isms" that have always been present in our society, but for the sake of this post, that's how I'll boil down these two paradigms.

Can you see the Personality Ethic playing out in our society today?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantGenerations of kids were shown that what mattered most was how they fit in socially, how well they could influence other kids, and how well they fit into the mold that was cast for them.

Sure, lip service was paid to character - we all remember those posters that said stuff like "There's no I in TEAM" and "Character is what you do when no one's watching," but being a good team player wasn't what we were really rewarded for. The social capital was in being the star, the success story, the popular kid.

Now those kids are grown up, and they're running our organizations and showing up to work each day. After years and years of being told that their personality mattered more than who they were inside, they float around like ghosts: vapid, stuck, and immaterial.

When we compromise our values over and over again, we lose the substance of who we are.

When we allow ourselves to participate in practices and cultures that erode what's good inside of us, we get lost.

I almost became a ghost, but luckily, in this metaphor, ghosts can always return to their humanity, so don't worry too much if you're feeling a little like Casper these days.

I became ghost-like after buying into the belief that it was better to be charming and likable at work than it was to act in a way that was in alignment with my values. I compromised, I looked away from things I knew were wrong, and I desperately tried to fit into the mold of "rising star."

Instead of telling managers that I thought they were pitting employees against one another, I smiled and asked them how their weekend was. Instead of telling the toxic employee in my office that their attitude was literally bringing down an entire team, I tip-toed and did what I could to get them on "my side."

This shit happened day in, and day out. And I was losing myself.

Now, of course, nothing is "black and white," and personality is an important component of working well with other people. Humans are social beings, and the ability to navigate interpersonal interactions is really helpful and important.

But you can only fake it for so long.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantUnless you have a deep, grounded sense of who you are and act in alignment with your values, your charm and image will fade over time into a shadow vaguely resembling who you used to be.

If you see something at work - or in the rest of life - that hits you as "off" or wrong, don't ignore it. See if you can make small tweaks that get you closer to living a life of integrity and depth.

Ghosts are real, and they haunt our workplaces, but you don't have to be one of them.


If you want this twice-weekly goodness delivered straight to your inbox, you can subscribe in the black box to your upper left.

Does the Buck Stop Here?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantOne of my first jobs out of college was in a small company where I essentially owned a customer service process. I worked with customers who'd been in a crisis of some kind, so I had to quickly and effectively send word to other stakeholders and kick off a series of events in order to make sure that the customer was cared for. If I didn't do my job well, or if someone else dropped a piece of the puzzle, it could come back to bite the company - hard. Like, lawsuit hard.

Since I was one of the only people who knew the process in and out and could manage the database we used to keep track, I interfaced a lot with organizational leaders.

One of them, who we'll call Gary, was responsible for working with the client much later down the road, when the stakes could be a lot higher. Sometimes Gary would get wind of urgent information that he'd need to pass along to me so that I could kick off the customer's process from the beginning.

From time to time with more minor issues, Gary would forget to pass that information along until it was a couple of days or even weeks after the incident had occurred. With little issues, this wasn't a big deal, and since he was about 40 years older than me and earned about 40x as much as I did, I trusted that he knew what he was doing.

I'd watch him talking to the other leaders in the organization and lie about having done something that he hadn't. Right after talking to them, he'd run over to me and give me the information he'd just claimed was already in process.

It was kind of astounding to see someone in a position of power and prestige so afraid to just say "No, I didn't get that done yet, but I will."

But what did I know? I was just a little customer service pawn, right?

So I didn't mention anything to anyone, even though I knew Gary's track record was dicey.

Well, one day some other higher-ups in the company came to me panicked because one of their biggest clients, whom Gary managed, had claimed that we didn't do our job correctly, which could have meant that I didn't do my job correctly.

Crisis ensued.

Everyone was shuffling through papers, emails, and two blaring questions kept running through my mind: did Gary tell me about this issue, and did I drop the ball?

If I was responsible for such a big kerfuffle, I could have justifiably been fired. It was one of those times when all of your senses are heightened, like you're a prey animal who knows it's about to get shot.

I looked and looked through all of my emails, files, the database I managed - everything. I couldn't find any evidence that Gary ever told me about this issue, which meant there would have been no reason for me to kick off the customer's process.

As I was going through everything and finding no evidence that I had dropped the ball, I felt wave after wave of relief: it wasn't me. Something else happened. I was safe.

Of course, Gary was nowhere to be found in all of this. Late that afternoon, he finally showed up in the office, and I saw him talking to those higher-ups that came to me earlier. The dust seemed to settle, and a colleague told me that everything turned out fine - the client would be taken care of, and they weren't leaving the business.

Phew!

I left that day totally drained after riding the emotional roller coaster and came in the next morning a little battle weary, but feeling like I trusted myself and my process more than ever.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThen I got called into the CEO's office.

Mr. CEO proceeded to firmly let me know how important it is that I keep track of and process the information that Gary gives to me, especially for large clients like the one in crisis yesterday.

Gary. He passed that big, bloody, fucked up buck right into my lap. He blamed me for the mess that I knew he'd caused.

I had no idea what to say, so I didn't resist or tell the CEO that Gary had never given me a shred of information about this and that it wasn't my fault. I just nodded my head and apologized. Luckily, I wasn't fired, but by then, my trust in Gary was completely eroded.

He went on as if nothing had happened - no mention of the crisis, no "hey, sorry I threw your ass under the bus."

I played along but kept my distance from him, always keeping extra good notes and covering my bases.

While Gary and I shared interactions over the next several years, this is what I will always remember about him: instead of taking accountability like a good leader would, he let someone much more junior than him take the fault and be blamed for a mistake that he made.

Watching him taught me that good leadership isn't a quality that you automatically have once you're older and in a position of power.

Each of us leaves a wake in our presence - impressions, energy, a sense of who we are that's felt by those who have been around us.

I don't want to leave behind a wake like the one that Gary left behind him. I don't want to be in my sixties blaming my assistants or employees so that I can shirk away from the shame of having made a mistake.

And I bet you don't, either.

It's easy to pass the buck in an organization - responsibility gets tossed around like a hot potato, no one really wanting to hold onto it and claim that it's theirs.

The leaders who have left a positive wake behind them are the people who aren't afraid to be held accountable and who are secure enough to share their humanity with us.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWe can all be that leader - that person who leaves a positive wake behind them. All we have to do is start taking responsibility for ourselves.

We have to stop blaming everything and everyone else for the lives we live, the choices we make, and for the mistakes we've made.

When will you stop passing the buck? When will you hold it and make it yours?

The more you do, the more integrity you'll have, and having integrity gives you the freedom and fullness to live a life that is totally yours and is a blessing to those who will feel your wake after you've gone.