Decision-Making Made Easy

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I was stuck.  I didn’t know what I should do.  On one hand, there seemed a clear course of action that I should take.  I have always considered myself an advocate, and there was certainly an issue on the table that was worth fighting for.  Yet, on the other hand, there was something that didn’t feel right about this.  I had this nagging feeling that I might be doing more harm than good, and that perhaps there was another way of tackling this problem that might yield more effective results.

Or was that a cop-out?  Was I just rationalizing so that I could avoid a struggle?  After all, how many worthwhile causes were won without some personal sacrifice on the part of those fighting for the cause?  Was I just being a wimp?

But at the same time, I’ve seen people completely ignored and written off as crazy when they take on a battle only to have someone else come along and attack the same problem with a grace and skill that wins people over and achieves the desired outcome.

What to do?

I’m fortunate to have a very smart friend with whom I was sharing my woes who, instead of telling me what to do, asked me a question.

“What would a leader do in this situation?”

I didn’t even have to pause to answer this question.  My choice became crystal-clear.  And I haven’t had a moment of doubt since.

The problem was, I’d become hung up on a label that limited me.  Now, it’s not that being an advocate is a bad thing.  In fact, it’s still something I strive hard to be.  But when I got stuck, it was like being hit by a lightning bolt to try on another label that describes another characteristic that is part of the person I want to be.

This experience has made me think about how I might be able to support others in finding the answers to their own struggles by connecting them with the kind of person they want to be.

When someone is fighting because he wants to be strong, what would happen if I asked them what a kind person would do in this situation?

When someone is reacting because they want to be heard, what would happen if I asked them how a thoughtful person might respond?

What labels have you seen drive the behaviour of others that, while on one hand are very valid, on the other, are restricting their possibilities?

What labels may be doing this to you?


The Power of the Picture


I fell in love with Wab Kinew after I had the chance to hear him speak.  He was smart, funny, and was able to challenge the audience’s thinking and assumptions about First Nations people in a spirit of true reconciliation.  I first remember him from his days working as a reporter for the CBC, and became a fan after watching the 8th Fire series.  So when his book, “The Reason You Walk”, was released, it became number one on my “must read” list.

His journey from a reserve in Northwestern Ontario to Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba has been an interesting one, and the path has not always been easy.  One of the things that intrigues me is how someone can live through so many challenges and traumas to become such a strong and centered advocate, educator and leader.  So many people are not able to see themselves through the suffering they have faced.  I was curious to see if there was a hint in his memoir that could explain how he became the person that he is today.

I know that there is never one simple reason to explain how a person becomes who they are.  It’s a blend of experiences, opportunities, genetics, luck…. A million different factors influence our personal development.  However, there was one part of Wab’s story that fascinated me.

From the very beginning, he was told that he would grow up to lead his people.

I can’t help but think that the fact that he heard this throughout his life didn’t shape him.

It makes me think about some of the messages our kids hear.  From simple statements like “You just aren’t a math person” to more cutting remarks like “You’ll never amount to anything”, I do believe that the pathway someone takes in their life is greatly influenced by the messages that they hear that help to form the picture of what they see as possible.

Wab talks at the end of the book about how important it is to him that his own children have a picture of what it is to be a strong, proud indigenous person because this will help carry them through the difficult times in life.

Do your words and actions paint an image of strength and hope for the children in your life, or do they limit their possibilities?

Does Money Make The World Go Round?

I had the great pleasure of hearing Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation at a conference this week on the topic of Aboriginal education and business.  He passionately shared his experiences of the changes in his community that he has been a part of during the ten terms he has served as Chief.  His story is truly inspiring – the band proudly operates a vineyard, a winery, a golf course, a conference centre, among other things.  He has been central in creating economic prosperity that has benefited the community in many, many ways.

One of the statements he made was that when people talk about emotional, spiritual and physical health, that he thinks at the centre of that all should be a dollar sign.

At first, this statement shocked me a bit.  But then I realized, he wasn’t really saying money was all that was needed.  In fact, he argued that welfare is one of the worst things that ever happened to his people.  What he was talking about was the ways that economic prosperity can impact people.  He talked about the pride that he sees on the teenager’s faces when they earn their first paycheck.  He described the sense of purpose that the community has in creating something amazing that draws the world to it’s doorstep.  He talked about the ways these initiatives have brought people together.  He talked about the feeling of pride in being independent and self-sufficient.  In creating your own future and destiny.

He was talking about belonging.




He was talking about how emotional, spiritual and physical health comes from people meeting their basic needs.

It made me reflect on the neediest students I have worked with.  Have I at times contributed to their feelings of inadequacy by doing too much for them in the name of “helping”?  Are there ways that I could instead have created opportunities for them to take control of their own lives, and feel pride in their achievements?  To feel that they are a part of a group that is doing something important together?   To become strong and independent people?

How can we do a better job of this with our students?

What Motivates the Other People….

Last week, I asked the question “Why do you work?”  I’d like to send out a big “Thank You!” to those of you who participated in my little survey to find out your thoughts.  And now for the results….

For the majority of respondents, they found doing something important/making a difference in the world motivated them the most.  Financial reward and enjoyment/fun were tied for the least motivating factors.

I heard about a research study (I’m so sorry – I’ve searched for the reference and can’t find it!  If anyone knows about this study, please let me know!!)  where they interviewed people to find out what they would choose to do if they had a choice between a career that paid very well but was pointless work or a career that was very meaningful but didn’t pay as well.  Not surprisingly, the results were the same – meaning is very important to us.

The part I found most interesting, though, was when they asked people what they thought the majority of people would choose.  Most thought that others would choose the well paying job.

In spite of the fact that there is a mountain of evidence that tells us that people want to engage in activities that make a difference, we often think that we need to provide treats, stickers, bonuses, etc. to increase productivity.

So – the question this week:  Whether you are managing a staff, trying to engage a classroom of students, or get your family to help with the household chores – are you focused on providing external motivation, or have you found ways to help people connect with the purpose behind their work?

What ways have you found to tap into people’s desire to do something important?  Please share your ideas!  (Trust me – taking a minute to share your stories can make a big difference in the life of someone who may be struggling right now!  Yes, YOU can make a difference!)

A winking, smiling emoticon


Why Do You Work?

work_experienceI was listening to an age-old debate about social assistance this week. It all sounds very logical: If you pay someone to sit around and do nothing, why would anyone have any motivation to work? As a society, we shouldn’t give people hand-outs because we need people to be contributing members of society and not just learn to take and take and never give.

It sounds logical… but my experience tells me it’s not quite this simple….

I work with a lot of folks who are on assistance, and many of them are overcoming significant odds every day to try to get their education. They have dreams of achieving a meaningful career, and are quite vocal about the fact that they don’t want to be on assistance for the rest of their lives. Why are they not satisfied with sitting back and collecting cheques?

I’ve also worked with a number of colleagues who were counting down the days until they were eligible to retire. And yet, when the day finally came, they didn’t. They had no financial reason to continue working, and yet, they just couldn’t go.

And what about all the unpaid work that people do? I attended the YWCA Women of Distinction awards ceremony this year, and I was completely blown away listening to the stories of the amazing work that volunteers in our community are doing. I don’t know where these women could fit all their work into the day, but it exhausted me thinking about all the time, energy and commitment that these people demonstrate.

And even within paid employment, I see people every day who go beyond the call of duty in their work. They take on extra projects, work overtime, and really go the extra mile – knowing full well that their efforts will not garner any extra financial reward. Often times, their labours will not even be noticed. But they do it anyways.

So if it’s not just money that motivates us, what is it?

I think many of us have this fantasy that if we won the lottery, the first thing that we’d do would be to quit our jobs. But I wonder… would you really? If push really came to shove, would you simply walk away, or is there something else you get out of your work that you might not be willing to give up?

It’s obvious that our work provides us with something more than simply money.  So I thought it might be interesting to do a little research.  I’ve created a one question survey that will only take you 5 seconds to complete.

Click here to anonymously share what motivates you!

Let’s see what we might learn…

Thanks for helping!

Lessons from a Great Supervisor


It’s always stressful when a supervisor that you have worked well with resigns.  Will the next person “get” you the way this one did?  Will you have the same synergy?  Will they understand and support you?

It’s high stakes.  Because having a supervisor that doesn’t support, understand and “get” you can turn an awesome job into a terrible one.

I’ve faced this situation numerous times in my career.  And on those occasions when things turn out well, it’s such a relief.  But regardless of whether the experience is positive or negative, I’ve learned a lot from watching these folks step into a new leadership role.  There’s the standard stuff about taking your time to learn about the system before making any radical changes or about the importance of getting to know everyone as a person and what their role is all about.  But one supervisor I had really stands out to me.

He was great.  Immediately, we connected.  He was always interested in my opinion on things, and seemed to really value what I said.  He made me feel smart.   He often told me that he had learned a lot from me.  He really built my confidence, and inspired me.  I would do anything for him.  He made me feel special… kind of like the teacher’s pet.

I had a teacher back in elementary school that made me feel this way too.  She used to give me secret gifts and cards with motivational messages.  I never told any of the other kids, because I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad that she liked me best.

It was years before I figured her out.  She did this for every one of her students.

And after a while, I noticed the same about this supervisor.  He made everyone feel important and valued.

Our team became highly motivated and effective because under his leadership, all our basic needs were met.  Obviously we felt belonging, because he made it clear that we were important to him.  Our power need was met because he constantly gave us messages that the work we were doing was important and valued.  He trusted us to make decisions and didn’t micromanage, fulfilling our freedom need.  And because we all liked him and had a good relationship, we had fun.  We did a lot of teasing and laughing together.

So often when someone enters a position of authority, it seems that their main concern is to demonstrate that they have the skills and talent to be the boss.  They feel the need to prove themselves.

How ironic that it’s actually when you shift the focus off of yourself and instead appreciate others that you become an awesome leader.

No matter what our job, all of us at some point find ourselves in a higher position in the hierarchy.  Think about how you interact with parents, the support staff, or the custodial staff.  And no matter what your position, we are always in a position of power with our students.

In these situations, do find that you more concerned with people recognizing your talents, or do you make a point of recognizing theirs?

Surviving Loss


Grief has been a big theme in my work lately.  I’ve seen the pain that comes from a break-up with a partner that someone thought they’d be with forever, the distress of the student who failed a course and isn’t going to graduate when she thought, and the agony of a mother who lost her child.  In each of these situations, there was a picture in that person’s head of how life was going to be, and it’s devastating when that picture gets shattered.

We all carry these pictures in our heads of what we want in life – it’s what drives our every behaviour.  When our pictures become unattainable, it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under us, and we become lost.  It’s like we are at sea, and we’ve lost the map to navigate our way home.

While we all experience this grief when these experiences happen to us, I’ve noticed that it’s those pictures in our head which determine if we are able to move forward, or whether we get stuck in our grief.

Some people hang on tightly to the picture of the life they wanted.  They do not let go of what they’ve lost, and every day is spent trying to put one foot in front of the other when all they feel is heartbreak.

Some people decide to create a new picture.  When the map gets lost, they pull out their crayons and sketch a new one.  It’s not the same as the original, but it gives them some guidance and a destination to move towards.  They are no less hurt by their loss, but they are able to find a different path forward.  They don’t get what they need in the way they thought they would or the way they wanted to, but they can still get their needs met.

We never remove a picture from our mind.  It’s always there, and when there is one that becomes unreachable, there’s always going to be some sadness about that.  You don’t forget, and you don’t “get over it”.  But what you can do is remember that there are many paths to living a good life, and keep yourself open to finding a new one.