The way it starts is the way it is

You can thank my friend Joel Tabin for this one.

This rule is true 90% of the time. It’s so true that it’s critical to remember when dealing with new events in your children’s lives as well as managing or hiring an employee.

Pay attention to the beginning; it’s the blueprint from which all else will follow. If someone is late to an interview, they’re going to be late to work. If a child is chronically disorganized in the first grade, chances are, unless you intervene, they’re going to be chronically disorganized throughout school. People are who they are. They don’t change until the pain of making bad choices leads them to want to change.

The beginning is the blueprint

I was once hiring a salesperson. (This has happened several times, unsuccessfully.) The guy in question seemed great (let’s call him Bill), but he didn’t seem hungry enough for the job. Bill said all the right things. But there was no…urgency to the process. And the number one thing salespeople are taught? Always be closing. He didn’t seem concerned enough to be closing the deal and getting the job offer.

For salespeople, competition is the electrical impulse that keeps their heart pumping. They want to win more than anything. If they aren’t hungry, then they probably aren’t born salespeople. And when you’re hiring a salesperson, you want someone whose energy screams salesperson.

But Bill was the last candidate standing and I had invested so much in the process, I felt like I had to hire him (This is called a sunk cost. It’s a bad idea to make a major decision on a sunk cost. More about that in a different post.)

How you know the future isn’t bright

On the day I wanted to make the offer, Bill was driving down to Florida with his kids and didn’t want to pull off the highway to take the phone call. And that was the Aha moment for me. He was about to get a job and he didn’t want to pull off the highway to take the phone call. That told me all I needed to know. If I offered him the job, Bill wasn’t going to pull off the highway to make a sale for my company either. And I needed someone who would have stopped the car to make a sale (like I have done. Many, many, many times).

I know you know how the story ends: An awkward conversation with Bill. But that’s okay. He didn’t have the right energy for me or my company. Letting him go would have been even more awkward.

Yellow flags turn red fast

Pay attention to all the clues in the beginning. If it starts weird, or is uncomfortable, or all these yellow flags pop up, PAY ATTENTION. Things can change, yes, but most of time, if it’s weird, it will stay weird.

Some of you are thinking: But I had first dates that were uncomfortable that turned into a lifelong partner. I had weird interviews that turned into great jobs. I had a colicky baby who became a sweet little girl.

But for all your stories, there are even more stories about how it just started great and continued to be easy, smooth and obvious. Even so, your stories still exist about how things can morph into something better.

So, yes, things can change. My point is to pay close attention to the beginning. Often, with the benefit of hindsight, you will see that you learned everything you needed to know about how things would progress from the beginning. So, watch that start. It will tell you most of what you need to know.

Forgiveness is an art, not a science

Oprah says it best, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.” When someone wrongs you, especially to your core, it is so hard to “forgive and forget.” If you’ve figured out how to do this, you should be writing your own book (seriously).

To master healthy relationships, we need to practice the skill of forgiveness.

And when we forgive, we don’t forget. We might even have a scar on our heart forever. But we need to be able to move forward, knowing what we know. Even being afraid it will happen again.

I once had an employee who resigned. She told me she was going to be a full-time mom. A few months later, I noticed she had her own work website listed on LinkedIn. I followed the link, and as I read it, my shock grew to horror. A former employee took almost all of my intellectual property and used it in the content of her site. Even her claims about how expert she was were laughable. I was indignant, “I taught her everything she knows! And she lied to me. How dare she?”

When I asked her about it in a pretty vanilla email, she claimed it was just for a few projects she was doing. But it didn’t look that way. It looked like she had taken everything I had taught her and hung up a shingle.

By the way, if she had been honest with me, I would have been more than okay with it. You want to grow your talented employees so they feel confident to move on to the next thing. People can’t be with you forever. Little birds have to fly from the nest. Hopefully, as parents we stick around forever, but we still want to see our children become independent, make their own decisions and live their own lives. When we are managers, our jobs is to usher the people we care about on to the next phase of their journey.

But lying just isn’t cool.

Because I was so hurt, I had to decide if I could trust my next employee in that position. It could have been the same thing all over again—she could work for me for a couple of years, and then leave with all of of my company’s intellectual property.

And there was absolutely nothing I could to stop her—or anyone else for that matter.

My mom says, “The greatest obstacle to wealth is inflexibility.” But I think one of the greatest obstacles is also trust. I needed to trust my next employee. So, I had to forgive the old one.

It’s taken me quite a few years not to reference it or talk about it. It used to feel like such a betrayal. Now it just feels like a chapter. In the end, how was my anger toward her serving me? Or my company?

If you can move forward from the things that feel like daggers in your heart, you will be a healthier person, capable of forging intimacy with the people that you care about, and the people that care about you. And you’ll bring that healthy intimacy to work, so that you can trust your employees to get things done.

Children will do and say things that will be so hard to integrate into your own reality of your family dynamics. Unfortunately, some parents see their children as products they’ve created. But, children go out into the world and are their own people. They’re going to wrong you. They’re going to disappoint you. They’re going to see things differently from the way you do. And you will need to forgive them too. You will need to give up the idea that the past could have been any different with them as well.

Forgiveness is a practice, and it won’t happen overnight. So be patient with yourself as you work through learning to forgive.

Can you tell me what you heard?

I’ve been getting such a positive response to this blog. Please like, comment and share if you enjoy what you’re reading!

There’s a well-known idea that people listen to respond, not to understand. In fact, George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

When my kids were toddlers, I used to ask them to put their shoes neatly together, side by side against a wall “like they’re married.” (Let’s encourage positive feelings about marriage—we’re together! Like shoes.)

But. Here I am, 13 years later, and the shoes are still all over the house. They’re in the living room—like RIGHT, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR. Why are they there? Is it so hard to put them in your cubby or your room or the front hall closet? I even bought a shoe tray and put it in the entry way. To be fair, the shoes are now in the entry way. But, they are just adjacent to the shoe tray. Not IN the shoe tray. Why is this?

I’m not going to solve this universal conundrum today. (Although, I do think there’s something: Why are these shoes still in the middle of the goddamn floor? might make an excellent parenting book title.)

Point? You can say things again and again with no hope of directions being followed if you don’t communicate clearly.

Tease out what they heard

I employ the following tactic with my children and my employees: “Can you tell me what you heard?” It’s an old marriage therapy trick, “What I’m hearing you say is…” If you truly listen to responses, you will find that the other person didn’t hear you. Instead, they were thinking about their lunch, or the boy they like in school, or why their boss lectures them constantly about dumb shit.

It’s your job, as a parent and as a manager, to tease out what was heard. By employing this single technique of asking, you will avoid miscommunication. Directives you thought were clear, like, put you shoes here, become clearer when you know the person heard “I don’t care where you put your shoes.”

And, if there’s a clear directive in place, chances are people will follow it. Especially, if you attach it to carrots and sticks: “If X happens, then you can expect a bonus or to be fired,” or “If I find these new $100 Adidas sneakers in the middle of the floor again, then I may just throw these in the garbage.”

Teach each other how to listen to the other

The other beautiful thing about this technique is that you teach each other how to communicate. When you start asking what they heard with every meaningful conversation, you learn the other person’s listening rhythms. What do they actually do hear when you speak? Then, you can modify your own communication tailored for that child or colleague. Some people need a story. Some need direct communication and an email follow-up. Understanding what they hear when you ask them will train both of you to sharpen your communication with each other.

Really, though. If you have any suggestions about what to do about the shoes, please contact me. I just cannot figure out why my children have this thing with shoes—is it just my three? Let me know in the comments below!

Never run to a code

Once at a basketball game (yep, again), I was sitting with my friend Jennifer Offer, MD, watching both of our daughters playing.

At one point in the game, one of the girls on the other team got hurt. She was writhing on the court in pain, holding her leg. I watched Jenny very carefully. She’s a passionate pediatrician who has such a caring, generous heart. But she didn’t run to the injured player. Instead, she was on the balls of her feet, ready to jump, but she waited to go down to the court.

I kept muttering under my breath, “Ok Jenny go down, go down,” but instead, she watched as the girl’s coach helped her off the court limping. I said to Jenny, “Wow, I’ve never seen you wait to help a kid who is hurt.” Jenny turned to me and said, “That’s one of the first things they teach you when you’re an intern; never run to a code.”

Interfering in hurt is interfering in learning

So often, in both parenting and as managers, we want to run to a code. We know we’re in a position of authority to help, and for many of us, rescuing our kids and our employees is a way of life.

But it’s bad for us and them. Here’s why: They’ll never learn. Getting hurt and moving past the hurt results in building self-esteem and resiliency. You can’t learn to be a competent leader or adult if someone is always riding in to save the day. (Obviously if someone actually gets hurt, physically, then you may want to get involved. As my husband always says, “It’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt.” Then we peel our children off of each other.)

Push them forward, even when it hurts you

Never running to a code saves you. If you’re always racing to rescue, both employees and children become dependent on you. They’re always coming back to you to solve the challenge. And we don’t want them to come back (except for Thanksgiving.) It’s our job to push them forward. Just watch a mother bird.

Do what Jenny did. Take a few minutes, or days, or months to watch the result of your employees or your children being hit, psychologically. See if they can limp off the court, without your help. You may need to support them, but try not to solve it right away. That’s how they’ll learn to solve it on their own. Watch it carefully, gather information, but don’t feel the need to get involved until they ask.

And if they do ask, “What should I do?” the best reply is, “What do you think you should do?”

Always be hiring, always be firing

Recently I was talking to my friend Aaron who was lamenting the attitude of a manager he supervises. He said, “She complains that she doesn’t want a supervisor’s job. She says there’s too much hiring,” and I said to her, “As a manager, that’s your job—you should always be hiring and always be firing.”

When I shared that anecdote with some friends recently and told them I was going to include it in the book, they looked at me in horror. “How do you plan on firing your children, exactly, Ahava?” (You know, some days—just kidding.)

It’s not the actual hiring or firing as an activity in and of itself that I think is the point here. It’s the attitude Aaron is espousing, which comes down to:

  1. Understand the people in your life and the roles they play to support you
  2. Identify the people who are not supporting you in the ways that you need
  3. Lose the emotional vampires
  4. Get comfortable with the revolving door metaphor of life

While raising 2 teenage girls, I truly see this as excellent advice for life. Watching their different friends come and go, and how they get closer with some friends and pull away from others when things change is a sign of a healthy attitude and a growth mindset. Our own growth is predicated on how well we understand ourselves, as well as the impact others make on us.

When you understand that friends and colleagues and mentors and mentees come and go, you open up the emotional space to let others enter your life. While there is grief in losing close friends, employees and colleagues, that’s the reality of life.

Cultivating the attitude of “always be hiring, always be firing,” will get your teams and children attuned to the realities of relationships with others.

That was the best game I saw you play

My daughter Amaya and her team recently got completely killed by another girls’ basketball team. (In case you haven’t noticed, I spend a lot of time at team sports. What can I say? I’m a suburban mom.)

Her team, even though completely overwhelmed, fought valiantly, working together, boxing the other team out and relying on strong defense. But the other team was taller, stronger and better. So they lost—by a lot.

After the game, Amaya was expressing her frustration about her teammates and their defense, upset about her teams’ loss, and I said to her, “Amaya, that was the best game I’ve ever seen you guys play. You worked together, your defense was strong and you never, ever gave up. That’s beautiful basketball.”

Sometimes the game is rigged; sometimes other people are just better

It’s hard to accept in life: Sometimes we show up 100%, do our best, and the other person is still better. They win. And we don’t. And it hurts. It hurts a lot.

But one of the major themes of this blog is learning from our mistakes and failures, and picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off. Nancy Kerrigan, after being hit on the knee by Tonya Harding’s boyfriend, right before the 1994 Olympics, became a household name, and a worldwide superstar—because of that incident. She was signed by Reebok and featured in a commercial, where you hear her voice layered over scenes of her practicing and performing, “There is a voice. I know it well. It’s the voice of doubt that creeps in and doesn’t let go. If I’ve learned anything about getting stronger, getting more competitive, I’ve learned that you can listen to only one voice. The one that says, get up.”

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

And that is the lesson to Amaya and her teammates and to you, your employees and your children—it’s more that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s that we fight through the hard times and we’re proud of our performance even when the chips are down.

Amaya and her team never gave up, never said, “Forget it—these girls are better and stronger. We’re just going to phone it in.” They worked hard to make the point spread respectable and more than that, they could be proud of the way they worked together.

When things are down—either in your family or at work—remind everyone that it’s our choices and our behaviors that define us. No matter what the circumstances. Let’s play the best basketball game we can, even when we know we’re going to lose.

Carry your own bag

This one time at work (that’s a joke for those of you that remember American Pie), I was talking to Emily, who at the time was my VP at my company. She was offering me data about how much our project managers are working. We were noticing that very small things were slipping, and Emily wanted to let me know that she thought I should throw more resources at project management—maybe even hire some extra help.

The deeper we got into it, the more my frustration grew because some of the data didn’t point in that direction. In fact, if anything, the data pointed to the fact that the project managers needed to spend more time on certain phases of their projects.

Emily’s job as their manager was to remove obstacles for them and report to me about what was happening in the field. But her reaction seemed stronger than the proof, so I prompted her, “Why do you feel so strongly about getting them additional help when the data doesn’t really point in that direction?” She said, very clearly, “I remember being a project manager and feeling really overwhelmed and not being sure that I was right that I didn’t have enough time to get things done.”

Once what Emily was feeling was in the light of day, which is what happens to the truth when it’s spoken, we could tackle it. I said, “Emily what do you hear yourself saying?” Her response, “I’m pulling from my own experience.” Exactly! Emily was putting herself in their shoes, which is a wonderful thing to do as a manager. But we have to be careful, both as parents and as managers, about letting our own experiences dictate the way we make decisions. Do we want the people we show up for carry our baggage?

I struggled with my weight (I still do). I also struggled with friendships as a child (that thankfully, I do not struggle with anymore). I wanted very much for these issues to be different for my children. And I did everything I could from a macro perspective—I picked a great guy to be their father, together we picked a wonderful community to raise them, and so on. But the hardest thing was the micro perspective—I had to sit on my hands, or bite my tongue when it came to eating too much candy or watching them pick certain friends.

I had to own my own experiences around these issues so I could parent in a way that I had defined as successful for myself. I believe this may be the hardest thing I have ever done and continue to do. This is true in management as well: I know that when I’m getting emotional then old stuff is coming up for me at work. I need to figure out what it’s about so I don’t let it cloud my judgement.

When you feel triggered or frustrated or you don’t understand why you’re having an emotional reaction, take a break. Take a walk. Ask for time to think about it more. No good manager will say—“You cannot take time to think about this!” And you can always say to your children, “Mommy needs a time out so she can think this through”, or “Daddy isn’t sure what to say and I want to say the right thing so I need some time.” Think about what a gift you’re modeling–you don’t need to know right away.

If it’s old stuff, then talk about it with a friend or a therapist. Or journal about it. No matter how painful it may be to hold it, working through it will get you to a clearer place, where you will understand your own reaction to the issue at hand.

And the truth is, as Steve Almond says, “Sometimes we need to look backward to move forward.” Understanding why we behave the way we behave is our stuff, and getting it out in the open helps us move past it. So carry your own bag, understanding it’s your bag and shouldn’t have to be carried by others.