The Professional – The Coronavirus Chronicles: 5 Ways to Keep a Team Motivated & Engaged While Working From Home

To be absolutely certain, SARS-CoV-2 has altered and disrupted contemporary life as we know it. Our daily routines have been cast into disarray; so we steel ourselves daily with the resolve and steadfastness to answer different challenges we all face. As I stated in my previous post, working remotely from home is not as glamorous as it may appear to the public. Trust, those of us that can work remotely are blessed. However, there are some challenges that cannot be ignored. Locked down utilizing whatever space is available to conduct work efficiently and effectively can be challenging. For example, my role and responsibilities require a consistent carousel of interaction with suppliers, hospital personnel, sales representatives, executive leadership, and fellow colleagues. These tasks are not an issue within the comforting confines of a cubicle or meeting room. Now, at home – not so much. Without a doubt, the concept of work-life balance has been disrupted. Coupled with the elimination of in-person team collaboration and the specter of furlough or termination; the combined stress can deplete what little remains of a worker’s drive and enthusiasm. As leaders, how can we keep a team motivated and engaged when the energy just isn’t there given the current environment? I am not an expert, but I offer 5 tips below that might be helpful.

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Daddy Diary – The Coronavirus Chronicles: 10 True Confessions of a Parent Working From Home

Perhaps contrary to widespread popular belief, working from home is not as glamorous as may be suspected. Please, do not misunderstand, I am very thankful for the capability to continue my employment remotely. Nevertheless, working remotely does pose unique challenges that cannot be easily dismissed. Every morning I board the struggle bus on the way to work. My patience, energy, and emotions wear critically thin as the day progresses. Sharing a workspace with 2 toddlers and a spouse (also working remotely) while trying to work effectively is truly demanding. And life does not stop simply because your work is now based out of your kitchen nook. One afternoon I was working in the dining room when I heard my daughter call out from upstairs. She was taking a nap and woke up with a nasty nosebleed.

Of course, I had to stop what I was doing and tend to my daughter. First, I stopped her nosebleed. Then I stripped her bed, blotted her mattress cover with hydrogen peroxide, cleaned up the blood that had trickled down the hallway & stairs, stain-treated her Frozen dress and sheets, and laundered both before returning to work at the table. Ah, I forgot, I prepared her afternoon snack after all that was completed. Nevertheless, I was proud to show her that the Frozen dress was clean. Each day presents its own adventure. So yes, working from home is a privilege for which I am truly thankful, but the battle for sanity ensues every time I open my eyes Monday through Friday. Below, you will find 10 “confessions” of a working dad just trying to remain productive in a Brooks Brothers button-up and Goodfellow pajamas from Target.

  1. Scenes from a pandemic – work from home edition.

    As perplexing and strange as it may appear, I confess that I actually miss certain aspects of the workplace. Trust me, I don’t miss the daily Michigan commute or intervening in petty office squabbles. However, I miss the daily soup and chili served in the cafeteria. I miss the adult conversation with a few colleagues, such as opinions about the latest episode of The Walking Dead or what team will reach the NBA Finals. These are conversations that cannot be had with toddlers.

  2. And speaking of toddlers, if you see my mouth moving on a video conference call, yet no sound is detected, the mute button is not unintentional. Most likely I am bellowing instructions at my children for quiet or attempting to quell a potential sibling fracas. Also, if my fingers are interlocked and positioned in front of my mouth in a thoughtful pose; you guessed correctly, I am bellowing instructions at my children for quiet or attempting to quell a potential sibling fracas. I just try to look intelligent doing it.
  3. If at any time my computer screen goes unexpectedly “dark” during a video conference call; the bald eagle is on the move. Whether it is preparing lunch for the children, breaking up a fight already in progress, or tending to a toilet clogged with Charmin Ultra Soft – some situations require hands-on attention. Generally, I have my mobile phone in tow so I can keep up with the group conversation and chime in when needed.
  4. Cisco Jabber is a vital tool for communicating at my job. Cisco Jabber is an application that provides instant messaging, conferencing, voice messaging, and desktop sharing. When utilizing the instant message function, there are various statuses that can be displayed to designate a user’s current condition. Now, when my status transitions from “available” to “away”, nature is probably calling and I have to settle a bit of business. And no, my mobile phone is not in tow. A brother has to set some boundaries.
  5. True, I write about style and dress for gentlemen, but working from home has changed up everything regarding dress code. To state that the dress code is relaxed in my home office would be an understatement. Yeah, you may see my rocking a sport shirt during a video conference call, but a brother is sporting pajama bottoms – clear out of sight of the camera. Now, my director did surprise one afternoon with a video call. He caught me wrapped up in a blanket. Look damn it, Michigan decided to pretend it was early February, and it was cold in my basement! At least it wasn’t a Snuggie.
  6. Sometimes I skip showers. There I said it. I literally roll out of bed and log in. And I do not care. For years now, I would awaken at the crack of dawn and perform the following duties: get both children showered & clothed, prepare their breakfast, pack their lunch, get myself showered and clothed, drive them to school, and then continue my commute to work. Now mornings are not as hectic. I can multitask better. So, yeah, sometimes I may not hit the shower until late afternoon or evening. And I seriously don’t give a damn. Nope. And I can’t be shower-shamed either.
  7. Prior to video conference calls, I ensure my background is painfully plain. Just because I’m rocking pajama bottoms and won’t shower until 5pm, it doesn’t mean I want people to spy random items strewn around the house. I always do a quick room check before turning on the camera.
  8. I desperately attempt to find areas of isolation to work undisturbed, but there aren’t many viable locations in my home. My children always find me. Of course, they have no idea that Daddy is on a video call, so they will casually stroll into the room behind me doing kid stuff – like having a dance party. As you can see in one of the pictures above, my daughter decided to whip out her sleeping bag and set up a spot to chill behind me.
  9. With my office setup essentially in my basement, sometimes it is hard to disconnect from work. Sometimes I find myself logging back in after my family has retired for the night. So generally, I am the last person to go to bed, but one of the first up – Ava usually beats me by a few minutes. She is even so kind as to wander to my side of the bed and hand me my glasses. That’s her way of telling me to get up and get going.
  10. All things considered, there has been a benefit that I admit has been welcome. I am not eating fast food because I don’t drive anywhere. I am saving a lot of money on gasoline. Since school has been canceled, I have received a temporary reprieve from school tuition. And even though they drive me up the wall, I am spending more time with the kids since I am not getting home late from work. Sure, I am slowly losing my grip on reality, but there are some positives to glean from the experience.

No More Mr. Nice Guy Misconceptions- 5 Effective Leadership Approaches For a Nice Guy

Broadly speaking, every gentleman has perhaps struggled with some form of insecurity at a particular juncture in life. And I am certainly not a beneficiary of any special exclusions. To be sure, I am not immune to episodes of uneasiness and internal distress with what I perceive as personal character flaws. I put forth the best effort to manage and suppress feelings of uncertainty and dissatisfaction; sometimes with success and other times falling short. In many ways, writing is very therapeutic, and it is always my hope that my musings serve as encouragement and empowerment to readers. A circumstance this week prompted some self-reflection regarding certain insecurities that are a source of a long-standing internal battle. This is going to sound odd, but I struggle with being a nice guy. I understand that may seem strange, but allow me to explain further in detail.

If I may make the assumption, I am quite confident that my family, friends, and associates would describe me as a nice guy. And in many instances, that designation would be a compliment. I consider myself respectful, pleasant, courteous, and kind. These should be considered noble traits. However, being classified as a nice guy also has a negative connotation. In addition to the aforementioned characteristics, I can also be described as a guy that is soft-spoken, quiet, and non-confrontational. All things combined, well, now the moniker of being a nice guy takes a turn for the worse. When some individuals have referred to me as a “nice guy”, I am intelligent enough to decipher the context. Weak. Passive. Soft. When I became a supervisor, there wasn’t a question of knowledge or work ethic, but some individuals questioned whether I possessed people management skills necessary to lead a team. After all, I was a nice guy, and nice guys are pushovers.

The prevailing and misguided philosophy regarding management is one has to lead with bluster, aggression, and micromanagement. Colleagues disdain those types of leaders, yet subconsciously, people tend to believe those traits get the job done – for better or for worse. This typifies toxic leadership, so it is usually worse. Now, those adjectives don’t describe my personality, as I am a laid-back and easy-going individual. Now what occurred recently (centered around a work issue) was a subtle implication that my nice personality prevented me from making hard decisions, especially when friends within the department are involved. Admittedly, this tapped into my insecurity of being perceived as the “nice guy”. In other words: passive, soft, hesitant, and weak. I am fully aware of the perceptions, and I would not be truthful if I were to say the perceptions didn’t irritate me and cause some second-guessing of my work skills.

However, you might find it interesting to know that perception does not necessarily align with reality. The reality is that amongst management, I am one of few with the most corrective actions, and unfortunately, I have had to separate a colleague from the company. This belies the perception of being a pushover, as theoretically I should not be able to address difficult colleagues or situations. Trust me as I tell you that my initial years being a supervisor were wrought with challenges that I never envisioned – it was insanity. Nevertheless, I was able to navigate the most problematic circumstances and colleagues, yet the perception of being a nice guy remained unchanged. How?

The label bothers me, regardless of the facts, and I even contemplate adopting a harder edge from time to time. I eventually regain my senses and dispel the silly idea. I cannot betray my character and integrity. And I suppose that it is a testimony to my leadership style that I have been able to deliver some unsavory actions, yet my name and reputation remain unsullied. I’ll probably continue to struggle with the nice guy moniker, going back and forth within myself in search of an imaginary solution. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in the same boat as me, here are a few tips to help you navigate rough waters and stay true to yourself.

5 Effective Leadership Approaches For a Nice Guy

  • A leader should never demean, disparage, or defame fellow colleagues. Good morale in the work environment is essential to the overall health and productivity of a business. If a leader is contributing to poor morale and a toxic work environment; that is definitely an issue. I ensure that treat every colleague with decency and dignity – even when delivering hard truths regarding work performance or behavior.
  • A leader must ensure that his or her management style is guided by company policies and regulations. I am confident in my decision-making because it is supported by company protocol. I make sure I am familiar with pertinent documentation offered up by human resources, and I seek clarity when it is necessary. Any accusations of shenanigans on my behalf will be hard to prove because I adhere strictly to company guidelines. Yes, I’m a square. But I don’t play favorites, as I am fair and just across the board.
  • A leader must be transparent. I will never ambush a colleague. If there are foreseeable issues on the horizon, I try my best to speak with a colleague to avoid any corrective actions. Confrontation makes me uneasy, so I attempt to avoid it. I am always honest with colleagues. I do not tell them what they want to hear. I tell them what they need to hear – no matter how uncomfortable the conversation.
  • Leaders must demonstrate follow through on their word. Declarations of punitive measures without the proper consequences are meaningless. No one will ever take you seriously because colleagues will conclude that you never enforce warnings. Trust, I still get butterflies in my stomach, but I cast away whatever emotional responses I have toward the situation, and address the issue (not the person) directly per company policy. Before a serious conversation, it is not unlike me to script out talking points the day before so I can stick to the subject and never stray off the designated topic. I maintain an even, measured tone and I keep the conversation streamlined to the subject at hand.
  • A leader must be willing to help their fellow colleagues. I am a strong believer in the growth and development of their careers. It is not unusual for me to undertake the task of performing a corrective action, yet later assist that same colleague with a resume or interview preparation. I believe everyone should be treated justly and fairly regardless of previous work indiscretions.

Gent Hints – The Professional – Just Answer the Damn Question

Without question, interviewing for a new position can be a source of tremendous stress and anxiety. And it is this stress and anxiety that can cloud one’s thoughts, disrupt critical thinking, and impair the ability to communicate coherently. I have conducted or participated in a ridiculous amount of interviews during the past 5 years, and without question, not answering an interview question ranks very high amongst possible interview missteps. For clarification, I am not referring to a candidate simply refusing to answer an interviewer’s query. I am referring to a candidate missing the mark and not understanding what is being asked so a proper response can be formulated. It occurs all the time – trust me. If I am really trying to obtain information required to make a fair assessment, I will ask follow-up questions to unearth some nugget of valuable content. And again, sometimes, the candidate swings and misses for a second time. If you are reading this, and nerves get the better of you in interviews, or you simply need a little more polish – keep reading below for some helpful guidance.

  • Relax. Really – relax. Easier said than executed right? I would advise performing a calming exercise an hour or so before you actually sit down for the interview. When I am nervous, I tend to breathe faster and my heart rate quickens. Sometimes my stomach feels queasy. Most people don’t know this, but I am self-conscious regarding how I sound when I speak. Yet I’ve been in situations that required me to talk. And if I talked how I felt, my words would stumble and trip over each other. So, I intentionally have to slow my thoughts and rate in which I speak down. Pace your thinking. Pace your response. It is hard work. In a weird way, you have to unconsciously separate yourself from other individuals in the room and proceed as if you are having a relaxed, comfortable conversation with someone you feel the most ease with – yourself.
  • Now, for the first point to be performed flawlessly, one must be prepared. I suggest practicing with someone that you find comfort and will be able to offer constructive feedback. It would also help to educate yourself about the company and position that you are seeking employment. Misstep #1: Blindly applying for a position because you are desperately trying to escape a current work predicament. Never walk into an interview clueless. It can be viewed as insulting, as you are wasting valuable time that could have been afforded someone else.
  • A gentleman should never be afraid to bring a writing utensil and paper to an interview. You should ensure that you note key points of important questions for thoughtful analysis and response. Your interview should have enough allotted time for the interview itself and questions you may have for the interviewer. So don’t feel pressured to rush. Generally, interviews that I have participated in have been at least an hour, but candidates fly through and are done at the 25 minute mark. Misstep #2: Don’t leave that much time on the table! Use that time to think about what is being asked so you can give the best answer possible.
  • You should definitely engage in active listening to comprehend what is being asked of you. Misstep #3: Answering a question before the interviewer has even completed the sentence. Misstep #4: Talking over the interviewer while he or she is talking.
  • If the question is not clear, ask that the question be repeated or rephrased. Ask for clarity. Don’t be ashamed to ask for a better understanding of what is being asked.
  • If a gentleman struggles with a particular question(s), it would be wise to request a temporary postponement of a response and then circle back to the inquiry after you have (hopefully) collected your thoughts.
  • If you honestly cannot answer a question, well, respond honestly. You should never mislead your potential employee by dancing around the question with superfluous chatter laden with fancy words. A good interviewer will be able to see through your nonsense. And if you happen upon a really good interviewer, expect follow-up questions that will flummox and rattle you. And if you draw a really, really good interviewer; expect follow-up questions to an answer you provided 5 questions ago. We want to see if your story demonstrates consistency. Therefore, don’t feed BS to the interviewer – we’ll know.

Have you ever interviewed or hired someone? Chime in. We want to hear from you.

Don’t Push Me, Cause I’m Close to the Edge – Maintaining Sanity in a World of Insane Stress

I cannot accurately recite how many times she beckoned for my attention, but the urgency of her tone revealed that it had been more than a few times over. As my mother-in-law called my name, I sat blankly staring out of a window, quietly lost in a turmoil of thought – muted to my surroundings. Suddenly, I was fully present again. I cannot accurately identify the specific catalyst that triggered my temporary, unresponsive state. However, if I dedicate enough thought to the matter, it most likely was a perfect culmination of stress related to marriage, fatherhood, health, and work. Responsibility. Obligation. Accountability. In other words, the daily strain of life.

And absent personal time for proper reflection and meditation, the mind sporadically pivots from one stressor to next, until you slowly begin to detach from your immediate environment – thus perhaps explaining my stupor at the time. My focus was scattered. A multitude of issues converging within my mind simultaneously. The stress would also manifest itself in other aspects of life. Sometimes, I could not derive happiness from events that would normally bring joy. My interpersonal skills would sometimes suffer with people close to me, as I would disconnect and shut individuals out. My drive and energy were nonexistent. While I am certainly not a therapist, I have formulated some thoughts and strategies to combat my stress. I detail a few points below. Nothing is a perfect solution, but it makes stress more manageable.

Stress Relief for the Gentleman

  • Recognize, perhaps, there is an issue. I’m just stating if you are feeling out of sorts and stress is becoming overwhelming, it is time to enact measures to address the current adversities burdening your spirit. Don’t ignore what is troubling your mind and spirit.
  • Recruit wise counsel, because sometimes having a good sounding board is the perfect tool to help deflect negative energy and guide you in a positive direction. A trusted friend, companion, or trained professionals are excellent options.
  • Ground yourself in a positive space. Existing in a constant flux of irritation, anxiety, anger, and sadness is corrosive to your mental, physical, and emotional health. Your frame of mind should align with the well-known Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
  • Perform an activity that is therapeutic. Personally, writing this entry is that therapy for me, as finding fellowship with other gentlemen experiencing the same struggle is calming and reassuring to me. For other individuals, it could an athletic activity. It could be immersing yourself in your favorite arts & crafts, music, photography, gardening, etc. The selected exercise(s) that can soothe and ease your spirit – do it!
  • Laugh. No really – laugh. Laughter stimulates the release of endorphins – hormones released within the body that grants a sense of euphoria. There’s nothing like a classic episode of Sanford & Son or Martin to get those endorphins flowing.
  • Beware of vices that only serve to satiate your carnal spirit. Embarking down this rabbit hole of excess can be self-destructive, and while temporarily pleasing, it is ineffective addressing the underlying source of your stress and the management thereof.
  • Get adequate sleep. Don’t deprive yourself of much-needed rest.
  • A gentleman can employ some small, simple tools that bring a touch of happiness or calm. There isn’t a morning or night that I fail to look at pictures of my children on my cell phone. Sometimes I just sit in darkness and listen to the sound of thunderstorms on my Google mini (it reminds me of sitting on the porch with my late grandmother during rainstorms). I like pops of color and pleasant scents, therefore, I revamped my whole workspace (pictured above) with flowers, colored notepads, and potpourri. Where do you extract small measures of joy?

The Standard #49

 

The professional gentleman understands that success within the workplace is owed not only to an impeccable work ethic, but also to an even-keeled temperament that marries well with fellow colleagues. A colleague that contributes nothing more than a negative disposition and unpleasant attitude can corrupt the morale and atmosphere within the workplace. Now, if you count yourself among the working class community, you understand that a sizable portion of your day is shared with your coworkers, most likely comparable to time shared with your family. Therefore, it would be in the best interest of everyone to make the work environment friendly and collaborative. Trust, no one wants to share close quarters and interact with a malcontent throughout the weekday.

Negative energy is an exhaustive drain on the team, and productivity can be impacted due to time exhausted dealing with said negative energy. The professional gentleman understands that his communication requires active listening, disagreements are treated with civility, and criticism is not offered absent constructive alternatives or meaningful feedback. Employing these methods can surely help foster a positive work environment that leads to better attitudes, willful collaboration, and substantive ideas. You will definitely be the colleague that coworkers enjoy working with and management wants to promote.

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